Loading...

American Civil War

The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy). Below are listed some of the Causes of the American Civil War.

Click here to see more information about the American Civil War.

Loading...
Loading...

Causes of the American Civil War

(See Main Article: Causes of the American Civil War)

“The Concept Of The Union”

For the full “History Unplugged” podcast, click here!

There were other motives as well, as some Northern newspapers admitted. If the South were allowed to secede and establish free trade, foreign commerce would be massively diverted from Northern ports to Southern ones, as merchants sought out the South’s low-tariff or free-trade regime. “Let the South adopt the free-trade system,” warned the Daily Chicago Times, and the North’s “commerce must be reduced to less than half what it now is.” Ohio congressman Clement Vallandigham believed that the tariff played a crucial role in persuading important sectors of Northern society to support war. As soon as the Confederate Congress adopted a low-tariff system, Vallandigham said, “trade and commerce . . . began to look to the South.”

The city of New York, the great commercial emporium of the Union, and the Northwest, the chief granary of the Union, began to clamor now, loudly, for a repeal of the pernicious and ruinous tariff. Threatened thus with the loss of both political power and wealth, or the repeal of the tariff, and, at last, of both, New England and Pennsylvania . . . demanded, now, coercion and civil war, with all its horrors, as the price of preserving either from destruction.. . . The subjugation of the South, and the closing up of her ports—first, by force, in war, and afterward, by tariff laws, in peace, was deliberately resolved upon by the East.

Following John Brown’s raid, Wendell Phillips’s description of the North’s Republican Party as a party pledged against the South took on a dangerous and disturbing significance. Some Southerners chose not to wait to see what a president from such a party had in store for them. And certainly some feared that Lincoln, despite his protestations to the contrary, might abolish slavery and thereby set Southern society on a path of social chaos and economic ruin.

But slavery was far from the only issue on Southerners’ minds, particularly since the great majority of Southerners did not even own slaves. For their part, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two of the South’s best known generals, described slavery as “a moral and political evil.” Lee had even been an opponent of secession, but fought on the side of Virginia rather than stand by as the federal government engaged upon the mad project of waging war against his state. Recall that Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas seceded only after Lincoln had called up 75,000 volunteers to invade the South and prevent its secession. These four states, therefore, certainly did not secede over slavery, but rather over Lincoln’s decision to use military force to suppress Southern independence.

“The Confederate States of America, An Alternate History: 1865-2020”

For the full “History Unplugged” podcast, click here!

American Civil War Summary

(See Main Article: American Civil War Summary)

Here’s a short American Civil War summary. It was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy).

A bit more context, however, is necessary. Strictly speaking, there never was an American Civil War. A civil war is a conflict in which two or more factions fight for control of a nation’s government. The English Civil War of the 1640s and the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s are two classic examples; in both cases, two factions sought to control the government. That was not the case in the United States between 1861 and 1865. The seceding Southern states were not trying to take over the United States government; they wanted to declare themselves independent.

What is sometimes suggested in place of Civil War is “War Between the States.” This term, too, is not quite accurate, since the conflict was not really fought between the states—i.e., Florida was not at war with New Hampshire, nor Rhode Island with Mississippi—but between the United States government and the eleven Southern states that formed the Confederate States of America in 1861. Other, more ideologically charged (but nevertheless much more accurate) names for the conflict include the War for Southern Independence.

The Confederate States of America, An Alternate History: 1865-2020

(See Main Article: The Confederate States of America, An Alternate History: 1865-2020)

“The Confederate States of America, An Alternate History: 1865-2020”

For the full “History Unplugged” podcast, click here!

American Civil War historians have asked if the South could have won the Civil War (or at least fought to a stalemate) since 1866. If they would have won, then what then? What would a divided states of America have looked like? Would a USA and a CSA have a happy peace and maintain a cooperative co-existence, like North and South Dakota, or maintain a cold war that threatened to go hot at any moment, like North and South Korea?

1854: The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

(See Main Article: The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854)

The Civil War

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (10 Stat. 277) was an organic act that created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska.

The controversy over the Kansas Nebraska Act proved too much for the ramshackle Whig Party, which was torn apart by sectional antagonism. Filling the political vacuum left by the self-destruction of the Whig Party was the Republican Party, created in 1854 as a sectional party—just what so many American statesmen had tried to avoid. The Republicans attracted a variety of supporters with their free-soil position and their support for high protective tariffs.

As free-soilers, they opposed slavery in the territories, though the racialist motivation of such exclusion of slavery is clear from the party’s 1856 platform, which read, in part, that “all unoccupied territory of the United States, and such as they may hereafter acquire, shall be reserved for the white Caucasian race—a thing that cannot be except by the exclusion of slavery.” Their economic program, of which the protective tariff formed an important plank, could not have been better devised to attract Southern antipathy. Abraham Lincoln, who would be elected in 1860 as the first Republican president, had been a supporter of the protective tariff for several decades by the time he reached the White House.

American Civil War/Total War: The Extent of Battle from 1861 to 1865

(See Main Article: Civil War/Total War: The Extent of Battle from 1861 to 1865)

Did the North win by waging total war in the Civil War? Total war is a “war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded.”

The contention of some historians that the American Civil War was the first modern “total war,” setting the precedent for the murderous wars of the twentieth century, appears to be a new twist on the Myth of the Lost Cause. It implies that the Union prevailed by waging war of unethical scope and severity. “It was Lincoln, Grant, and the Civil War that incorporated total war into modern experience,” asserts Charles Strozier. He adds that “the totality of the modern state seems to require unconditional surrender as a necessary correlative of its total wars. The American Civil War brought that into focus.”

The accusation of brutality in the Union armies’ conquest of the South began right after the war. In 1866, Pollard contrasted the Yankees’ behavior with that of Lee’s army, which, he maintained, abided by its commander’s order to protect the property that lay in the path of its Gettysburg campaign. “No house was entered without authority; no granary was pillaged; no property was taken without payment on the spot, and vast fields of grains were actually protected by Confederate guards. . . . ” In fact, however, the rebels in Pennsylvania foraged extensively and confiscated livestock, transportation vehicles, and thousands of wagon loads of grains and produce—sufficient to constitute a fifteen-, twenty- or fifty-mile reserve train of wagons. Confederate “payments” for property were made in essentially worthless Confederate currency, and as many as several hundred blacks were kidnapped and sent South into slavery.

The Battle of Vicksburg: Assaulting & Besieging the Fort

(See Main Article: The Battle of Vicksburg: Assaulting & Besieging the Fort)

Overview: Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Tennesse Army defeated Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton at the Vicksburg Battle on May 18 – July 4, 1863.

Wasting no time, Grant immediately moved on Vicksburg battle with all three of his corps and ordered the first assault at 2 p.m. on the 19th. Riding the momentum of his string of successes, Grant wanted to catch the defenders before they had an opportunity to fully organize. Although that assault tightened the noose around the town and gave Grant’s troops covered and advanced positions, the Union’s nine hundred casualties (to the rebels’ two hundred) indicated that capture of the town by assault would be difficult. Nevertheless, Grant decided on a second assault. Johnston’s army threatened in his rear, and Grant wanted to avoid bringing in reinforcements. His soldiers, moreover, believed they could carry the town’s fortifications, and he wanted to give them an opportunity to try. On May 22, all three corps launched simultaneous attacks but were repulsed. In response to dubious claims of success by McClernand, Grant sent him reinforcements and continued attacks elsewhere. These assaults failed, however, and left Grant with 3,200 casualties to the defenders’ five hundred. So Grant settled in for a siege.

In his memoirs, Grant expressed his regrets for the May 22 assault but explained his reasons for doing so:

We were in a Southern climate, at the beginning of the hot season. The Army of Tennessee had won five successive victories over the garrison of Vicksburg in the three preceding weeks. . . . The Army of Tennessee had come to believe that they could beat their antagonist under any circumstances. There was no telling how long a regular siege might last. As I have stated, it was the beginning of the hot season in a Southern climate. There was no telling what the casualties might be among Northern troops working and living in trenches, drinking surface water filtered through rich vegetation, under a tropical sun. If Vicksburg battle would have been carried in May, it would not only have saved the army the risk it ran of a greater danger than from the bullets of the enemy, but it would have given us a splendid army, well equipped and officered, to operate elsewhere with.

General Fuller pointed out that Grant had seven reasons to attack rather than simply besiege Vicksburg: (1) Johnston was gathering an army in his rear, (2) a quick victory would allow Grant to attack Johnston, (3) Union reinforcements would be required to perfect the siege, (4) the troops were impatient to take Vicksburg, (5) the weather was getting hotter, (6) water was scarce, and (7) the men were not anxious to dig entrenchments. Although he has been criticized in hindsight for initiating the May 22 assault, Grant had sufficient reasons to justify his attempt to take the town by assault. Even though his casualties that day were five hundred killed and 2,550 wounded, Grant’s casualties in the three prior weeks of fighting had been a mere seven hundred killed and 3,400 wounded. Cumulatively, these casualties were a fair price to pay for having struck at the heart of the Western Confederacy and trapping a thirty-thousand-man army in the citadel on the Mississippi, the capture of which would culminate in an extraordinarily significant Union victory.

From afar, Robert E. Lee gave President Davis some belated advice on the Vicksburg battle situation and paid a tribute to Grant’s speedy execution of his campaign. On May 28, barely more than a week after downplaying Grant’s chances for success in Mississippi, Lee revealed a fresh-found concern. He wrote, “I am glad to hear that the accounts from Vicksburg battle continue encouraging—I pray & trust that Genl Johnston may be able to destroy Grant’s army—I fear if he cannot attack soon, he will become too strong in his position—No time should ever be given them to fortify. They work so fast.”

After the May 22 attack on Vicksburg, Grant had his troops dig in for a sustained siege. They dug trenches and protected them with sandbags and logs while Union sharpshooters kept the besieged defenders from interfering with the construction. With only four engineering officers in his army, Grant directed every West Point graduate to supervise the siege line construction. With Johnston assembling an “Army of Relief,” consisting of thirty-one thousand troops from all over the South, to trap him, Grant received reinforcements of his own from Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky. His army grew from fifty-one thousand to seventy-seven thousand. As reinforcements arrived, Grant used them to cut off all communication out of Vicksburg battle south along the Mississippi, secure the countryside back to the Big Black River, and destroy bridges across that river, protecting his army from attack by Johnston’s force from the east.

Grant’s gambling campaign left him somewhat vulnerable to a Confederate counterattack between May 22 and June 8, when the first division of Union reinforcements arrived. During that interval, Grant had about fifty-one thousand troops sandwiched between Pemberton’s 29,500 and Johnston’s 22,000 (30,000 by June 3). But between Johnston’s temerity and the lack of Confederate coordination, Grant was spared an attack.

In Virginia, Lee learned that Grant had reached the Yazoo and optimistically speculated, “The enemy may be drawing to the Yazoo for the purpose of reaching their transports and retiring from the contest, which I hope is the case.” As Kenneth P. Williams notes, “Grant’s persistence during the winter and his brilliant campaign behind Vicksburg had taught Lee nothing about the character of the soldier he would a year later have to face.” More importantly to Grant, his president recognized the greatness of what he had accomplished. On May 26 Lincoln wrote, “Whether Gen. Grant shall or shall not consummate the capture of Vicksburg, his campaign from the beginning of this month up to the twenty-second day of it, is one of the most brilliant in the world.”

As Grant’s troops advanced their lines, particularly on the eight roads into Vicksburg battle, he at last found a means of ridding himself of the conniving McClernand. McPherson and Sherman read in Northern newspapers that McClernand had issued a congratulatory order to his troops that effectively disparaged their troops. The offended generals complained to Grant, who relieved McClernand of command on June 18 for publishing unapproved orders. When McClernand received the relief order, he exclaimed “Well, sir, I am relieved,” and then, noting a hint of satisfaction on the delivering officer’s face, he added, “By God, sir, we are both relieved!” Major General Edward Ord replaced McClernand as corps commander.

On June 22, Grant learned that some of Johnston’s cavalry had crossed the Big Black River and now threatened his rear. Grant immediately put Sherman in charge of the half of his army protecting against such an attack and readied other forces to reinforce Sherman if needed. With thirty thousand men and seventy-two guns, Sherman’s “Army of Observation” guarded all of the Big Black River crossings. Johnston backed off. He may have been reluctant to attack Grant because Union scout and double-agent Charles Bell had personally told Johnston that Grant had eighty-five thousand troops (an exaggeration of more than twenty thousand at the time). Bell also had reported more accurately to Grant on Johnston’s own strength and disposition.

On June 25 and July 1, Union troops exploded mines in tunnels they had dug under the Confederate lines. Although these explosions did not afford the besiegers an opportunity to enter the city, they did force the defenders to further constrict their lines. For forty-seven days, the Confederate forces and Vicksburg residents were subjected to continuous Union fire from ships and shore that may have totaled eighty-eight thousand shells and killed perhaps twenty civilians. With deserters reporting that morale and food supplies were running low in Vicksburg and with his trenches having been advanced as far as possible, Grant planned an all-out assault for July 6. Ironically, Johnston had chosen that same date for his own long-delayed assault on Grant.

Joseph Griffith: A Welshman at Vicksburg

(See Main Article: Joseph Griffith: A Welshman at Vicksburg)

The Welsh have always been a part of the fabric of the American nation. At the time of the American Civil War, there were approximately 120,000 Welsh speakers living in the Northern States, concentrated mainly in New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio. There were regional Eisteddfods (Welsh literary festivals) annually, Welsh named towns and churches dotted the countryside, as well as several Welsh language newspapers circulating the country. When the war broke out, over 6000 Welshmen volunteered to fight for the Union; none were drafted or coerced. Indeed, their status as volunteers became a defining feature of their patriotism to their adopted country, enduring years of conflict to earn what they perceived as legitimate American citizenship sanctified through sacrifice. However, their remarkable heroism through the war has been largely forgotten. One of these patriots was Joseph E. Griffith.

Like many others, the United States was his adopted homeland. He was born in 1843 in Llanegryn, North Wales. After his mother died, he and his family emigrated to Wisconsin, but soon removed to Iowa, and settled in the old capitol county of Johnson, where his father became the pastor of the ‘Welsh Church’ six miles west of Iowa City. When Lincoln called for more volunteers in 1862, Joseph enlisted in Company I of the 22nd Iowa Volunteer Regiment.

The regiment was primarily made up of men from Iowa City in Johnson County, Iowa. Griffith was not the only Welshman in the regiment. He was accompanied by four other volunteers who had been born in Wales, or had their nativity listed as ‘Wales’ on the official roster: Edward Breese, Griffith W. Griffith, and Thomas E. Marsden in Company I, and Richard Thomas of Company A – all resident in Iowa City. As with Powell’s example, these men would have had strong regional ties with Joseph Griffith, so his influence as a role model would have had both a regional and a national dimension.

Vicksburg Campaign (March 29 to to July 4, 1863)

(See Main Article:  Vicksburg Campaign (March 29 to to July 4, 1863))

In Vicksburg Campaign, Vicksburg, sitting on the Mississippi River, was the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.” Lose it, and the Confederacy was cut in twain. Hold it, and the South had access to the grain and men of the lower South and the West. Or, in Lincoln’s words: “We may take all the northern ports of the Confederacy and they can still defy us at Vicksburg. It means hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South, and a country where they can raise the staple without interference.”

With the Federals working their way down from the north, and already occupying the river’s southern outlet at New Orleans, a siege of Vicksburg was almost inevitable. But taking Vicksburg was an imposing challenge. Its big guns kept the river clear of Union blue, and the city’s marshy landward approaches were tough-sledding at best for an attacker, and were made even more perilous by Confederate snipers and saboteurs.

In 1862, Admiral David Farragut tried repeatedly to capture Vicksburg along the Mississippi, but the big guns chased him back. General Grant tried the landward approaches and had no better luck. With General Sherman defeated at Chickasaw Bluffs (in December 1862) and Confederate cavalry ravaging Grant’s communications and supply lines, the Federals were forced to withdraw. But in 1863, Grant came again. His plan this time was to skirt the big guns through elaborate engineering works— building a canal, diverting the river—all of which came to naught.

But in March 1863, Grant decided on a bold maneuver. He would march his men down the Louisiana side of the river, cross it well south of Vicksburg and then swing round and attack—marching all the time through enemy territory. Rear Admiral David Porter, meanwhile, would reinforce his gunboats and, in a perilous gamble, run them by the fortress at night. On 16 April and 22 April 1863, Porter made his two daring passages under the guns of Vicksburg with spectacular success. The air was lit with fire and flame, but his losses were minimal. The focus now shifted to Grant.

The Vicksburg Campaign:

Grant’s plan was to isolate Vicksburg, marching first to Jackson, Mississippi, cutting off the citadel’s line of retreat and source of supply, and then invest the rebel fortress. Starting with 50,000 troops (a number that would grow to 77,000), divided into five corps, Grant faced 30,000 Confederates who were strung out defending too many points with too few men.

Of the major battles of this campaign, four deserve attention. The Battle of Port Gibson (1 May 1863), conducted one day after Grant landed his men across the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg, led to the Federals achieving a foothold twenty-five miles south of Vicksburg. The Confederates had mounted a gallant defense, but had been outnumbered three to one. At the battle of Raymond (12 May), near Jackson, the bluecoats again outnumbered the Confederates three to one (and in artillery seven to one) and again the Confederates withdrew but only after a stiff fight. At the Battle of Jackson (14 May), Grant marched into Mississippi’s capital city, which Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston had decided to abandon, and destroyed its railways and industry.

The climactic battle before the siege of Vicksburg Campaign was at Champion Hill (16 May) twenty miles east of the city, where 32,000 Federals, under General Grant, collided with 22,000 Confederates, under General John C. Pemberton. In a hard fought contest, a Confederate counterattack nearly reached Grant’s headquarters. Saving the day for the Federals was General Marcellus Crocker (leader of “Crocker’s Greyhounds”) who threw two brigades of bluecoats against the rebels and saved the Federal line. The Confederates retreated to Vicksburg.

Grant first tried to take Vicksburg by storm. But he underestimated the strength and stubbornness of the Confederate defenders. After five days of knocking Federal troops against the Confederate wall, Grant decided to shell and starve the Confederates instead, while continuing offensive probes and calling for reinforcements. The shelling of Vicksburg was so intense that its citizens dug a system of caves in which to live.

By July Confederate General Pemberton realized the game was up. He had been waiting for reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston, who despite having orders and reinforcements to save the city, would take no such risk. Pemberton wanted to fight his way out, but his subordinate generals thought this quixotic, given how ill fed and badly outnumbered the men were. Pemberton conceded this and on 4 July 1863, nearly 30,000 Confederates—and the city of Vicksburg—were surrendered to U.S. Grant. The 4th of July became a day of mourning, rather than celebration, in Vicksburg.

The Battle of Port Gibson in the Vicksburg Campaign

(See Main Article: The Battle of Port Gibson in the Vicksburg Campaign)

The Battle of Port Gibson happened on May 1, 1863, near Port Gibson, Mississippi as part of the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War.

The first day ashore, Grant pushed McClernand two miles inland to high, dry ground and on toward the town of Port Gibson, where a bridge across Big Bayou Pierre led to Grand Gulf (which Grant coveted as a supply base on the Mississippi). Meanwhile, Grant oversaw the continuous transport of more of his troops across the Mississippi well into the night. Aided by the light of huge bonfires, McPherson’s soldiers were transported until a collision between two transports at three o’clock in the morning stopped the operation until daylight.65 Back upriver, Sherman was beginning to move south but remained worried about the long, vulnerable supply line. There was a reason to be worried. As James R. Arnold observes, “Grant was at the end of an exceedingly precarious supply line, isolated in hostile territory, positioned between Port Hudson and Vicksburg—two well-fortified, enemy-held citadels—outnumbered by his enemy, and with an unfordable river to his rear. Few generals would have considered this anything but a trap. Grant judged it an opportunity.”

The next day, May 1, brought conflict and the first of Grant’s five victories leading to the siege of Vicksburg—the Battle of Port Gibson.67 Two Confederate brigades, which had belatedly marched as many as forty-four miles from near Vicksburg, and the garrison from Grand Gulf had crossed the bridge over the North Fork of Bayou Pierre at Port Gibson. They confronted McClernand’s troops about three miles west of the site of the Battle of Port Gibson. McClernand split his forces along two parallel roads leading toward town and ran into strong opposition. General Bowen arrived from Grand Gulf to command the defenders.

The Confederate left fell back under intense attack from three of McClernand’s divisions as Union sharpshooters picked off the brave and effective rebel gunners manning the defenders’ artillery. Following the initial rebel retreat, McClernand and the visiting governor of Illinois, Richard Yates, delivered victory remarks and did some politicking with the troops. Grant put an end to those proceedings and ordered the advance to resume. Meanwhile, Grant had reinforced McClernand’s left wing on the northern road with two of McPherson’s brigades, and that wing, in the face of persistent enemy artillery, likewise drove the Confederates back toward Port Gibson. The victory was confirmed the next morning, May 2, when Grant’s soldiers found Port Gibson abandoned by the Confederates, who had crossed and burned the bridges across Big Bayou Pierre (to Grand Gulf) and Little Bayou Pierre.

1863: Emancipation Proclamation

(See Main Article: What Was the Emancipation Proclamation?)

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.  This executive order was a war measure directed at the rebel states and declared the ten states that were rebelling to be free. The proclamation excluded the areas that were under the Union’s control, but still applied to around 4 million slaves at that time. The Emancipation Proclamation was not a law that Congress had passed, but an executive order based on the president’s authority over the armed forces as specified in the Constitution.

In a way, the proclamation was a way to get more soldiers on the Union Army’s side. It specifies that suitable freed slaves could enroll and be paid to fight for the Union and that the Union’s military personnel had to recognize the freedom of these former slaves. Lincoln may have seen the Emancipation Proclamation as a necessity from a military perspective: in 1862 the Union wasn’t doing too well in the war. By taking away the Confederate’s slave workers, it would not only add to the strength of the Union Forces, but also weaken the Confederacy by taking away the labor that helps to produce their supplies.

Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863)

(See Main Article: Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863))

The Background of The Battle of Gettysburg:

History of Battle of Gettysburg-General Robert E. Lee wanted to isolate a Union army and destroy it. That, he believed, was the quickest way to convince the North to allow the Southern Confederacy its freedom. So he marched his men out of warravaged Virginia through Maryland and into Pennsylvania.

The battle was fought over three days: 1-3 July 1863, with the final troop totals equaling close to 95,000 Federals and 75,000 Confederates. As the initial skirmishes began, almost accidentally, Kentucky-born Union General John Buford, an old Indian fighter, secured the high ground for the Federals.

The Confederates could have won the battle the first day. They pushed the Federals from their advanced positions in front of Gettysburg and along Seminary Ridge. The subsequent Union position—known as the “fish hook”—eventually formed like the base of the letter J at Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill, extending straight down Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top and Big Round on the Union left.

Lee asked General Richard Ewell to attack the base of the fishhook, in order to sweep the Federal line, “if practicable.” Ewell, to Lee’s dismay, didn’t think it was, though Confederate General John B. Gordon knew otherwise: “The whole portion of the Union army in my front was in inextricable confusion and in flight . . . my troops were on the flank and sweeping down the lines. The firing upon my men had almost ceased. Large bodies of the Union troops were throwing down their arms and surrendering . . . .In less than half an hour my troops would have swept up and over those hills . . . .It is not surprising that . . .I should have refused to obey that order [to retreat].”

On the Union side of the line, it had been a lucky escape, but with heavy casualties. I Corps had lost nearly 10,000 men and some units had been virtually annihilated (the 24th Michigan suffered casualties of 80 percent). But arriving at midnight was the Army of the Potomac’s new commander, General George Meade, who inspected his defensive positions and found them solid.

That was one opportunity lost for the Confederate army. Another came on the second day, when Lee’s plan was to “attack the enemy as early in the morning as practicable”25 at the opposite end of the fish hook. The attack was entrusted to General James Longstreet. Longstreet, however, disliked Lee’s plan, preferring, according to his later testimony, to maneuver the Confederate army into a defensive position that would force the Yankees to attack it.

Longstreet delayed the attack until near day’s end, waiting for reinforcements. By that time, Union troops under General Daniel Sickles had advanced, contrary to General Meade’s orders, into an area known as the Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field, and Devil’s Den, smack in front of Longstreet’s long-delayed advance.

Confederate General John Bell Hood, dispatched scouts to see if it was still possible to flank the Union left, as originally planned. The answer was yes, if the Confederates moved their attack around to the hills of Little Round Top, which had no more than a Union observation unit, or unoccupied Big Round Top.

Hood reported this intelligence to Longstreet, but Longstreet refused to alter the plan of attack. He sent his men charging, en échelon, uphill, into spewing Union fire. Still, the Union line began to dissolve, and the Confederate attack spilled over to Little Round Top.

There the Confederates met the hastily formed line of the 20th Maine led by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain’s thin blue line forced back the Confederate attacks, and trusting to courage against numbers, he counter-charged with fixed bayonets, stunning the Confederates into retreat and hundreds of surrenders.

But everywhere else on the center-right of the Union line, furious fighting continued. General William Barksdale, pushing his Mississippians to almost pierce the Union line, was killed. Union General Sickles lost a leg (smashed by a cannon ball), but nonchalantly lit up a cigar as though it were nothing. The 1st Minnesota regiment, rushing to plug a gap in the Union line, sustained 82 percent casualties, but did its duty and held the position. Cemetery Ridge remained in the hands of the bluecoats.

Twice, fate—in the form of reluctant generals—had deprived Lee of the victory he thought was possible at Battle of Gettysburg. On day three, Lee resolved on a daring stratagem.

That night, at the Union council of war, Meade and his officers resolved that they would hold their ground and brace for Lee’s next move. Having attacked the Federals on both flanks, Meade suspected that Lee would attack dead center. Meade was the first general to read Robert E. Lee exactly right.

Lee planned for Ewell to lead a diversionary attack on the Union right while Longstreet made the main attack under cover of the largest artillery barrage ever attempted by the Confederate army. Longstreet, however, wanted to renew his argument from the day before. He wanted either to renew his flanking attack or have the entire army shift to the Union left and establish a defensive line that would compel the Federals to attack.

Lee listened patiently, but rejected Longstreet’s arguments and told him to get his men into position. Longstreet, however, delayed all the morning through the afternoon. Indeed, by the time he got his men moving, the artillery, which had barraged the enemy, was depleted of ammunition.

The Confederates now had the challenge of crossing a mile of open ground with minimal artillery support to suppress federal fire. They did not flinch. The charge would be led by the brigades of General George Pickett. Officers to the front, General Lewis Armistead—whose father had been a general and whose uncle had been the lieutenant-colonel commanding the defense of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812—shoved his black hat over the tip of his sword and waved his men forward. With him were Pickett’s other brigade commanders: James Kemper, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates whose grandfather had served on George Washington’s staff, and Richard B. Garnett, a West Pointer suffering from a bad knee and worse fever. He advanced on horseback, however obvious a target that made him.

The Confederates marched forward as if on parade, even stopping at one point to adjust and straighten their lines, oblivious to the holes being torn in their ranks by the Union fire. Of Pickett’s Virginians, Brigadier Garnett was shot off his horse, dead. Brigadier Kemper, calling for Armistead’s men to support his brigade, collapsed, shot in the groin.

Armistead waved his men to come on, they were close enough now to the Union line to break into a jog—and they were blasted by canister. But through the storm of smoke, artillery fire, and minié balls, the Union front was suddenly pierced. Chasing a line of retreating Federals was Armistead himself, still waving his black hat on his sword, shouting, “Come on boys! Give them the cold steel! Follow me!” They surged forward into hand-to-hand combat, Armistead and his troopers running straight into two Federal regiments rushing to close the line. Armistead, arm outstretched to a silent Federal cannon, went down, mortally wounded, falling at a point on the battlefield now called “the high tide of the Confederacy.” On another part of the front, the University Greys, made up entirely of students from Ole Miss, managed to plant their colors no more than a yard from the Union line before the devastating Union fire killed every last one of them.

Now it really was over. The Confederate lines wavered and buckled. As one rebel commander said, “The best thing the men can do is get out of this. Let them go.” As the shattered Confederate units drifted back, Lee rode forward to meet them. “All good men must rally. . . .General Pickett. . . your men have done all that men could do; the fault is entirely my own . . . .All this has been my fault—it is I that have lost this fight and you must help me out of it the best way you can.” The Confederate soldiers cheered Lee. They even begged another chance. But Lee waved them down, and prepared them—with a newly revitalized Longsteet—for a counterattack that didn’t come.

Both sides licked deep wounds. The Union army had suffered 23,000 casualties. The statistics were even grimmer for the Confederates. Twenty-eight thousand men were lost, more than a third of Lee’s army, and among them a high proportion of senior officers whose talents and experience could not be replaced. Lee’s officers had sacrificed their lives in the battle they hoped would secure Southern freedom.

What You Need to Know:

Gettysburg and Vicksburg were the turning points of the war. The hopes of the Confederacy would never again rise so high as they did on the battlefield in Pennsylvania.

The 1863 Battle of Gettysburg stopped Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North. It was the deadliest battle of the American Civil War, with over 50,000 casualties during the three day battle, a scale of suffering never seen before or since in America. The Union won victory and had new life injected into its war effort. The Confederacy saw its best chance at demoralizing the North slip away.

The Strategic Situation in the East May – June 1863

  • Union Problems
      1. Military:
        1. The Union had lost several battles in a row in Virginia, most notably (and recently) Chancellorsville.
        2. Lincoln could not find an army commander that he could trust.
      2. Political:
        1. The lack of Union success was encouraging the peace movement in the North.  Copperheads (anti-war Democrats) said the war needed to be ended right away and the Union restored to the way it was.
        2. The Union imposed a draft in 1863. The draft was very unpopular and helped the Copperheads gain support.
  • Confederate Opportunities
    1. In early May, Lee’s and Hooker’s armies faced each other in northern VA.
    2. Bragg and Rosecrans faced each other in east Tennessee
    3. Operating against Vicksburg.
    4. Some Confederate leaders (including Davis) believed VA was not that important.  They felt Lee should send part of his army to reinforce Bragg and/or Pemberton.
    5. Lee wanted to keep his whole army and invade the North again.  This would take pressure off Virginia farmers and strengthen Peace Democrats in the North.
    6. Lee also felt that a successful invasion might even lead to British or French recognition of the Confederacy.

Pickett’s Charge: The Disastrous Offensive Gambit

(See Main Article: Pickett’s Charge: The Disastrous Offensive Gambit)

Overview: Confederate General Robert E Lee ordered Pickett’s Charge in order to attack Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Union Army during the last day of Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

Pickett’s Charge and Why It Happened

Who had lost Gettysburg? Longstreet’s role in the battle and campaign seems rather insignificant, and Lee consistently and mistakenly ignored his advice. Even before the campaign, Lee had convinced Davis to ignore Longstreet’s recommendation that the bulk of Longstreet’s troops be sent to another theater. Partially because Lee kept Longstreet from going west, the Gettysburg disaster was accompanied by defeats in two other theaters. Lee’s decision made it more likely that Grant would defeat the Confederates in Mississippi and capture Vicksburg and Pemberton’s army. And he kept Bragg so shorthanded that his army was maneuvered back into Georgia from Tennessee in the virtually bloodless Tullahoma Campaign.

Robert E. Lee, therefore, bore a great deal of responsibility for a demoralizing triple disaster in the summer of 1863—Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Tullahoma. Confederate morale and prospects fell to a new low from which they never recovered. Longstreet had advised defensive tactics for the campaign and was against attacking on the last two days of the battle. He was not present on the first day, and his men fought bravely on the last two days. That evidence seems to indicate that Longstreet was unfairly made a scapegoat for Gettysburg in order to remove blame from Lee, who protected his own reputation by suppressing Pickett’s battle report.

How about Lee’s strategic and tactical performance? Early Confederate reaction was not favorable. The Charleston Mercury opined, “It is impossible for an invasion to have been more foolish and disastrous. It was opportune neither in time nor circumstance.” Wade Hampton told Joseph Johnston that it was a “complete failure.” In a July 26 diary entry, Robert G. H. Kean of the Confederate War Department called Gettysburg “the worst disaster which has ever befallen our arms. . . . To fight an enemy superior in numbers at such terrible disadvantage of position in the heart of his own territory, when the freedom of movement gave him the advantage of selecting his own time and place for accepting battle, seems to have been a great military blunder. . . . Gettysburg has shaken my faith in Lee as a general.”

General Hampton concurred:

To fight an enemy superior in numbers at such a terrible disadvantage of position in the heart of his own territory, when freedom of movement gave him the advantage of accepting his own time and place for accepting battle, seems to have been a great military blunder . . . the position of the Yankees there was the strongest I ever saw . . . we let Meade choose the position and then we attacked.

General Alexander shared the view that Lee had blundered: “Then perhaps in taking the aggressive at all at Gettysburg in 1863 & certainly in the place & dispositions for the assault on the 3rd day, I think, it will undoubtedly be held that [Lee] unnecessarily took the most desperate chances & the bloodiest road.” Historian William C. Davis, generally supportive of Lee’s war effort, provides this insight into some specifics of Lee’s performance at Gettysburg:

Confronted with a battle he did not want in ground not of his choosing, Lee exercised minimal control before he reached the field late on July 1. While struggling to concentrate the army, he could have sent staff to impose instructions on Hill and Ewell, but he did not, and left them to it. When he directed Ewell to take the key to the Union line on Cemetery Hill, he used the discretionary caveat “if practicable,” an unproductive phrase with a mercurial general like Ewell. Once he established his headquarters on the field, Lee erratically communicated plans to his corps commanders. . . . Lee gave orders to his corps commanders but sent no staff with them to make certain his wishes were obeyed.

Davis then offers an overall appraisal of Lee’s performance at Gettysburg:

He forfeited any long- or midrange tactical reconnaissance Stuart might have provided, and as a result had no grasp of the overall battlescape. He learned of Union movements too late to react, and never identified Meade’s center of gravity in order to direct his own efforts to best effect. He let Hill bring on a major engagement despite instructions not to do so, and then gave orders too imprecise and discretionary to be effective. Five years later Lee offered two reasons for defeat: Stuart’s absence left him blind; and he could not deliver the “one determined and united blow” that he believed would have assured victory. . . . What he did not say was that he was ultimately responsible. He let Stuart go, and his own laissez-faire management helped bungle the attacks on July 1 and 2. . . . Every general has his worst battle. Gettysburg was Lee’s.

After the war, Lee provided his rationale for having attacked on the second and third days at Gettysburg:

It had not been intended to deliver a general battle so far from our base unless attacked, but coming unexpectedly upon the whole Federal army, to withdraw through the mountains with our extensive trains would have been difficult and dangerous. At the same time we were unable to await an attack, as the country was unfavorable for collecting supplies in the presence of the enemy who could restrain our foraging parties by holding the mountain passes with local and other troops. A battle had therefore become, in a measure, unavoidable, and the success already gained gave hope of a favorable issue.

Lee, in fact, had not come upon “the whole Federal army.” That whole army was not on the battlefield until late on the second day of the Gettysburg struggle. Later, even after suffering three days of terrible losses, Lee in fact was able to retreat safely through the mountains after the three-day battle. In addition, Lee’s army managed to live off the country north of the Potomac for nine more days. Thus, Lee’s rationale justifies neither his series of frontal attacks on the second day nor the suicidal charge on the third day.

Furthermore, Lee’s strategic campaign into the North, which almost certainly had to end in a retreat and thus the appearance of defeat, had resulted in actual defeat. Rhode Islander Elisha Hunt Rhodes’s July 9 diary entry typified northern elation over Gettysburg: “I wonder what the South thinks of us Yankees now. I think Gettysburg will cure the Rebels of any desire to invade the North again.” Archer Jones writes that Lee “suffered a costly defeat in a three-day battle at Gettysburg. With Lee’s loss of 28,000 men to the North’s 23,000, the battle became a disaster of depletion for the Confederate army. His inevitable retreat to Virginia, seemingly the result of the battle rather than his inability to forage, made it a serious political defeat also.”

Considering the nearly equal number of combatants at Gettysburg, Lee’s losses were staggering in both absolute and relative terms. Of the seventy-five thousand Confederates, 22,600 (30 percent) were killed or injured. The toll of general officers was appalling: six dead, eight wounded, and three captured. Just as significantly, the Southern field grade officers suffered high casualties, and their absence would be felt for the duration of the war. Of the 83,300 Union troops at Gettysburg, 17,700 (21 percent) were killed or wounded. Although his losses were higher in absolute and proportional terms, Lee told Davis, “Our loss has been very heavy, that of the enemy’s is proportionally so.”

Because the Richmond papers, and thus many others in the South, initially reported Gettysburg as a Confederate victory, the South did not at first realize the extent of its losses in Pennsylvania. By July 31 Lee had deluded himself into calling the campaign a “general success.”  A Virginia private who had fought at Gettysburg expressed a different view in a letter to his sister: “We got a bad whiping. . . . they are awhiping us . . . at every point. . . . I hope they would make peace so that we that is alive yet would get home agane . . . but I supose Jef Davis and lee don’t care if all is killed.”

1864: Abraham Lincoln Wins Re-Election

(See Main Article: Lincoln’s Landslide Victory in the Election of 1864)

File:Abraham Lincoln O-92 Imperial Albumen by Brady, 1864.jpg - Wikipedia

In 1864, Lincoln once again demonstrated a political aggressiveness that matched Grant’s military aggressiveness. In that year’s political campaign, he, along with Republican Radicals, insisted that the Republican platform contain a plank advocating a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. He encouraged his secretary of war to work with his generals to allow as many soldiers from non-absentee-ballot states as possible to return home to vote for president.

But the election of 1864 results, especially before the fall of Atlanta, were not pre-ordained. Lincoln was vulnerable because the North was divided on the issues of war, the draft, and slavery. There had been draft riots in New York City, anti-war “Copperhead” sentiment flourished in the Midwest, and the Democrats adopted a peace platform at their convention. Just after McClellan’s nomination, Secretary of the Navy Welles worried that “McClellan will be supported by War Democrats and Peace Democrats, by men of every shade and opinion; all discordant elements will be made to harmonize, and all differences will be suppressed.” The next day, however, he took a contrary position: “Notwithstanding the factious and petty intrigues of some professed friends . . . and much mismanagement and much feeble management, I think the President will be reelected, and I shall be surprised if he does not have a large majority.”

“The Way that Lincoln Financed the Civil War Led to Transcontinental Railroads, Public Colleges, the Homestead Act, and Income Tax”

For the full “History Unplugged” podcast, click here!

1865: End Of The American Civil War

(See Main Article: When Did the Civil War End?)

The last battle of the Civil War was however only fought over a month later, at Palmito Ranch in Texas. Although an unofficial truce existed between the Union and the Confederates, Theodore H. Barrett ordered his Confederate soldiers to attack a Union camp close to Fort Brown. His reasons for attacking are unknown, and some say that he was just eager to lead his first attack before the war was officially over. The 34th Indiana’s Union Private John J. Williams is said to have been the last death in combat of the American Civil War.

For more resources on this period of time:

Click here for our comprehensive guide on the Antebellum period.

Click here for our comprehensive guide on Black History in the United States.

Cite This Article
"The American Civil War: Its Beginning, Impact, And Its End" History on the Net
© 2000-2023, Salem Media.
February 2, 2023 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/the-civil-war>
More Citation Information.
×