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Dead Confederate soldiers in the trenches in Petersburg. Library of Congress Soldiers at rest after drill, Petersburg, Va.

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illiam Tecumseh Sherman’s men had made Georgia “howl” and then set upon South Carolina with a vengeance. Sherman said of the birthplace of secession, writes historian James McPherson, “I almost tremble at her fate.” Columbia, S.C., was the third Confederate capital Sherman’s men wrecked. His army traveled “Old Testament style,” noted historian Bruce Catton, “a pillar of smoke by day and pillars of fire by night.” His army made a dozen miles a day through swampland and across swollen rivers that Southerners thought impenetrable.

The 13-inch mortar “Dictator” mounted on a railroad flatcar at Petersburg, Va. National Archives and Records Administration

“I made up my mind that there had been no such army in existence since the days of Julius Caesar,” said Sherman’s opponent, Confederate General Joseph Johnston. Sherman, having beaten Johnston at Bentonville, N.C., in March 1865, faced an open road to connect with Grant’s army. At the rate they were driving, Sherman’s men could enter Virginia in a week and burn Richmond in two. Meanwhile, the armies of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee remained locked around Petersburg, Va. Grant’s men tried to blast their way into the city during the summer of 1864. Lee’s men tried to break out the following spring. Neither succeeded. As the siege continued, Grant used his superior numbers to push his line south and west around Petersburg. The Confederate defenses stretched so thin, writes historian Geoffrey Ward, that Southern General John B. Gordon said he no longer had a line but rather, “the mere skeleton of a line.” On April 2, following a Union victory at the Battle of Five Forks, Grant ordered the all-out attack that finally shattered the

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Petersburg defenses and compelled the evacuation of Richmond to the north. Ward reports a woman, seated next to Confederate President Jefferson Davis when he got the news, watched a “gray pallor” descend over his face. The end came April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Catton writes that two of the greatest soldiers in American history worked out terms of peace, and it was for the best. Lee’s decision spared the country years more of guerrilla warfare, he said. Grant’s decision spared Lee, and because he was the commanding general, every other Southern officer beneath him. Three days later, Gordon, wounded five times in battle, according to Ward, ordered the Army of Northern Virginia to stack arms. Union Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, wounded six times, ordered his men to salute the Confederates – “a token of respect,” he said, “from Americans to Americans.” Gordon, observing the honor, ordered his men to return the salute.

Union soldiers at Appomattox Court House Library of Congress


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istorian Paul Nagel, in a history of the Lee family of Virginia, describes a story of a little boy who ran home from Sunday school to ask his parents if he could learn more about Gen. Robert E. Lee by reading the Old Testament or the New. It has been that way since the Civil War ended. One of the first to write about Lee after the war described him as “bathed in the white light which falls directly upon him from the smile of an approving and sustaining God.” The myth surrounding Lee became such that he evolved into an icon, wrote another biographer, a “god figure for Virginians, a saint for the white Protestant South and a hero for the nation.” Before the Civil War, Lee had been one of the nation’s most outstanding soldiers. He was a former superintendent of West Point, and was commended for his performance in the Mexican-American War.

Lee was offered a command of Union troops by Abraham Lincoln but said he would not raise his sword against his native Virginia. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia gave the Confederacy the only hope it had, writes historian Bruce Catton, and bequeathed to future generations, North and South, “a tradition of undying valor and constancy. … Not many armies in the world’s history have done more.” But historians such as Alan Nolan note the conflict within Lee, who served as president of Washington College in Virginia – later Washington and Lee University – after the war until his death in 1870. It is impossible to separate the personal nobility and virtue Lee brought the Southern cause from the cause itself. It is impossible to separate Lee’s unwillingness to raise his sword against Virginia from Virginia’s rebellion. Lee and the suffering he endured

cannot be separated from suffering he inflicted. And while Lee gave the Confederacy hope, a Confederate victory would have ripped apart the nation and extended slavery across much of the West. After the war, Union commander Ulysses S. Grant described that conflict when he wrote of the feelings he had for Lee when the two met at Appomattox Court House in the spring of 1865. “(H)e was a man of much dignity ... it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. ... I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” Robert E. Lee

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t almost never happened. The speech many historians – indeed many Americans – consider among the finest ever given in this country was almost never written. For Abraham Lincoln to deliver his second inaugural address, he had to win the election. In order to do that, he had to be winning the war. During much of 1864, that was no sure thing. No nation in history had held an election in the midst of a civil war. The federal government was attempting something else novel – giving soldiers a say in whether to prosecute the war, determining for themselves whether to continue fighting and dying. George McClellan, former commander of the Union army, whom Lincoln sacked twice, ran against him as a Democrat. With the Union’s armies stalled in Atlanta and Petersburg in the summer of 1864, even Lincoln judged his odds of winning slim. “It seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected,” Lincoln

wrote in August 1864. “Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the president-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterward.” In the end, a number of things turned Lincoln’s way, including Sherman’s victory in Atlanta. Soldiers went Lincoln’s way, too. More than seven in 10 supported their commanderin-chief, which was enough to carry the tide in states such as New York, according to historian James McPherson. On Election Day, Lincoln received 55 percent of the overall vote. But in his moment of triumph, Lincoln gave a speech that was anything but triumphant. Lincoln’s second inaugural address was an expression of humility, writes historian Bruce Catton, asking questions about what it all meant and concluding the answers eluded him. God had not abandoned the country, as

Americans on both sides despaired, Lincoln said. God instead was leading the country to something better, “the new birth of freedom” Lincoln spoke of in 1863, although neither side truly understood it all. Returning to a theme he had wrestled with before, Lincoln concluded, “The Almighty has His own purposes.” Then, he turned to the future. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Lincoln portrait

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(Above) Lincoln at camp with Gen. George McClellan and officers at Antietam in 1862 Crowd gathered for Lincoln’s second inauguration Library of Congress


Sherman’s men take over a Confederate fort outside Atlanta. Library of Congress

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ar is cruelty and you cannot refine it,” William Tecumseh Sherman said. Nor was he going to try. “Those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out,” he said. The Confederate army, following its defeat at Chattanooga in late 1863, shifted south toward Atlanta, under the command of Joseph Johnston.As Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant slammed into one another in the East, Sherman and Johnston began their own bloody dance through northern Georgia in the spring of 1864. They clashed at Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman had the numbers to drive Johnston but couldn’t pin him. By July, the Confederate army had pulled back to Atlanta, drawing on reinforcements. Johnston was holding out there, just as Lee was in Petersburg. Southeners hoped they could last until the November elections in the North, undermining Abraham Lincoln’s chances of keeping the presidency. But

Confederate President Jefferson Davis thought otherwise. He replaced Johnston with John Bell Hood, an aggressive fighter so shot up in previous battles that he had to be strapped onto his horse. Hood tried to hit back at Sherman – once when the Northern armies were divided – but his attacks failed. Sherman’s men kept encircling Atlanta, like fingers tightening around a neck, and forced Hood to withdraw that September. Atlanta’s fall was a major coup for the North, but the cost of the long campaign had been 37,000 Union and 30,000 Confederate casualties.Hood shifted north, expecting the Union army to give chase, but that was a mistake. Sherman instead had his eyes on the Atlantic Ocean. The corn harvest was binned and smokehouses were bursting with butchered pork, writes historian Bruce Catton, when Sherman did as Grant had done after crossing the Mississippi and cut away from his lines of supply and communication. “I can make the march and make Georgia howl,” Sherman said. Once more, Lincoln, unsure what was happening, agonized over the fate of an army.

Again, he need not have worried. Sherman drove east in two columns and cut a wide swath, ravaging Georgia as he rolled unchallenged. Union men ransacked the statehouse, then in Milledgeville, the second capital in the Confederacy to feel Sherman’s wrath. Union soldiers even held a mock session, writes historian Geoffrey Ward, and passed a resolution on behalf of Georgia rejoining the Union. They boiled coffee with Confederate money fueling their campfires. On Dec. 24, Sherman reestablished contact and sent Lincoln a telegram: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition; also, about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

Sherman Sherman’s men tear up railroad tracks in Atlanta. Library of Congress

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Single grave under a tree at Antietam.

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he bloodiest day in America’s military history was not Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Nor was it Sept. 11, 2001, when attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania sparked the U.S. war on terrorism. More than 2,400 people were killed in the former, nearly 3,000 in the latter. The deadliest day in American war history was Sept. 17, 1862. More than 3,600 Union and Confederate soldiers died in a single day’s fighting at Antietam in Maryland. Another 19,000 were wounded, missing or captured, according to the National Park Service. Historian James McPherson quotes Nelson Miles, a Union officer at Antietam, writing to his brother a week later: “It seemed, as I rode along, that it was the Valley of Death. I think that in the space of less than 10 acres lay the bodies of a thousand dead men and as many more wounded.” The American Civil War spawned a frightful number of days like Antietam. Dead and wounded piled up week after agonizing week, month after agonizing month.

At Shiloh, two days of fighting left nearly 24,000 casualties. At Stones River, there were 23,000 casualties in three days. Gettysburg left 51,000 casualties in three days. More than 34,000 were killed, wounded or missing after three days at Chickamauga.

The equivalent num ber of dead Am er icans fr om a sim ilar four-year w ar today w ould be about 6 m illion.

estimates the population at 310 million, about 10 times larger than it was 150 years ago. The equivalent number of dead and wounded from a battle such as Antietam today would be 226,000 – just from one day’s fighting. More than 600,000 men, North and South, died from battlefield action, wounds, disease or other threats during the Civil War. That’s about 1 in 50 people living in the United States in 1860. The equivalent number of dead Americans from a similar four-year war today would be about 6 million.

And, of course, there was Cold Harbor. Reports of 7,000 men falling at Cold Harbor, Va., within 30 minutes are exaggerated, writes historian Edwin Bearss in “Fields of Honor.” “The truth – that perhaps 4,500 men fell in a few hours – is bad enough,” he writes. To appreciate the scale of the blood spilled across the nation from 1861 to 1865, consider this: The 1860 census put the country’s population at about 31 million, including several million slaves. The latest census Graves on the battlefield at Manassas

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Graves of Union soldiers at Antietam.

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Jefferson Davis portrait

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efferson Davis, by some measures, should have made the greater president. Davis was a West Point graduate and hero of the Mexican-American War, having led men who turned back a cavalry charge at the Battle of Buena Vista. Abraham Lincoln could only poke fun at his own lack of military experience; he joked the only blood he shed for his country came while battling mosquitoes during the Black Hawk War. Davis was wired to power. His first wife was

the daughter of President Zachary Taylor. He also served in the House of Representatives, as Lincoln did, then went to the U.S. Senate and was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. “He is emphatically one of those ‘born to command,’” Harper’s Weekly said of Davis in 1861. But being born to command is different than being born to lead, and the latter is what Davis was chosen for when he was elected president of the Confederacy in 1861. Davis faced a number of insurmountable challenges in office, according to historians, not the least of which was a Southern emphasis on “states rights” that created “the kind of government Southerners wanted (but) … not the kind that could fight and win an extended war,” writes historian Bruce Catton. The president of the Confederacy held together the contentious collection of states

against a foe with greater resources and men for four years. Davis also was a slave owner. Though he never mentioned the words “slave” or “slavery” in his inaugural address, the Mississippi Declaration of Secession, which Davis helped draft, focused entirely upon it: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.“ Davis was “a gentle, patriarchal master,” who viewed slavery as a benign, even beneficial institution under which AfricanAmericans prospered, according to historian Geoffrey Ward. “In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction,” Davis said in 1861. Davis was captured a month after Lee’s

Scene of Jefferson Davis’ inauguration Feb. 18, 1861, in Montgomery, Ala. Library of Congress

surrender at Appomattox. Although many in the North wanted him hanged, he was held only two years before being released without trial. He died in 1889. “Every lost cause, you know, must have a scapegoat, and Mr. Davis has been chosen as such,” said the Confederate cavalry leader John Singleton Mosby. “... I do not know any man in the Confederate States that could have conducted the war with the same success that he did.” It was a sentiment shared by Robert E. Lee.


Wounded from the Battle of the Wilderness in Fredericksburg, Va.

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he South, for all of its generalship and determination, could not seem to win the war in the East. The North, for all of its generals’ blundering and caution, could not seem to lose. Three years after Fort Sumter, little had changed in the East except the roster of generals President Lincoln pitched at Robert E. Lee. The toll of dead, wounded and missing – from First Manassas to Gettysburg – topped 150,000. In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, who had captured two Southern armies and been in charge of victorious forces at Chattanooga, took command of all Union armies. Two months later, Grant and Lee’s soldiers collided in a Virginia tangle known as the Wilderness. The fight took place in overgrown jungle terrain that negated Union strength in numbers and artillery. Wadding discharged by rifles ignited leaf litter and underbrush, setting fires that burned over wounded men. James Longstreet – Lee’s “warhorse” and

one of his most dependable commanders – became, like Stonewall Jackson, a casualty of friendly fire. Longstreet survived but was out of commission for months. Nearly 30,000 men were killed or wounded in two days’ fighting. The result was another stalemate. Events played out between the armies as they always had. Then Grant changed everything. Grant didn’t pull his men back across a river to give them time to lick their wounds. He pushed South. The Union soldiers, on the march in the aftermath of one of the war’s most brutal battles, cheered as they grasped what it meant: They were advancing.Grant and Lee’s armies collided next at Spotsylvania Court House. Another 30,000 men were casualties of two weeks’ fighting. Breaking off, Grant shifted south again. At North Anna, the two armies met once more. The cost was another 5,000 casualties between them. At Cold Harbor, Lee’s army turned back a Union assault, but not before adding 7,000 more federal casualties to the toll. It is the one attack Grant said he always regretted ordering. In a mere six weeks, Grant’s Overland Campaign left 100,000 men on both sides dead, wounded or missing.Grant ended his campaign by mid-June and continued swinging

south, this time toward Petersburg. But the Union squandered its numerical advantage and a chance to capture the city before Lee’s reinforcements arrived just in time. The Union siege of Petersburg lasted into the following spring.According to historian Edwin Bearss, the Union, by not pushing aggressively into Petersburg when it had the chance, missed “a once-in-the-war opportunity, which condemns thousands of men on both sides to death, disabling wounds and a long, hard summer before Petersburg eventually falls.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Library of Congress

The Wilderness battlefield

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or two years, generals on both sides ordered their men to attempt the almostimpossible – a head-on assault. Soldiers died by the thousands in these attempts – most notably at Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg in 1862 and Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg in 1863 – usually for naught. But in November 1863 it worked. Following its defeat at Chickamauga, the Union’s Army of the Cumberland withdrew

north. Grant hoped the two flanks would collapse. Hooker initially had luck taking Lookout Mountain but then bogged down. Sherman, too, struggled. Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to move against Confederate rifle pits at the base of the ridge to keep Bragg from shifting reinforcements from his center to the flanks. The 20,000 men in the Army of the

the time – 5,800 for the North and 6,700 for the South. But the victory was bigger than the casualties suggest. The North held Chattanooga, a river city and railhead that would serve as a base to move against the Deep South. Union President Abraham Lincoln, meanwhile, realized that in Grant he had a man who could win him the war.But, surely, part of the reason for the North’s success was Engraving of Lookout Mountain

Sketch of the battle of Missionary Ridge

north to Chattanooga. Southern commander Braxton Bragg retained the high ground around the city, including Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Ulysses Grant, put in charge of all Union forces in the region, planned to use the Army of the Cumberland to pressure the Confederate center on Missionary Ridge while the real attack came from either end. Veterans from the eastern Army of the Potomac, under Joe Hooker, would strike Bragg’s southern flank. William Sherman and his Western warriors from the Army of the Tennessee would hit Bragg from the

Cumberland succeeded – and kept going. As the army charged the ridge, Grant turned to his subordinates and demanded to know who ordered the head-on assault. To a man they said, “I did not.” “When those fellows get started, all hell can’t stop them,” one of the men told Grant, writes historian Edwin Bearrs. Unexpectedly, the Confederate center collapsed. Before long, Bragg and his stunned troops were in a headlong retreat that didn’t stop until they were well down the road to Atlanta. Casualties were light by the yardstick of

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revealed when a Union soldier stopped to examine the body of a dead Confederate on Missionary Ridge. The Confederate was a boy, about 15 years old, fighting barefoot in November, according to historian John Bowers. “For a day’s ration there was a handful of black beans, a few pieces of sorghum and a half dozen roasted acorns.”

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Lee & Gordon Mills. Chickamauga Battlefield, Ga.,1863.

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he summer of 1863 belonged to the Union. The Army of the Potomac turned back Robert E. Lee’s second northern invasion at Gettysburg. Ulysses Grant captured Vicksburg and opened the Mississippi River. But those who imagined the South was in its death throes were soon disabused of such thoughts. As fall came, Union Gen. William Rosecrans pushed south toward Chattanooga, Tenn., a critical railhead for the Confederacy. His skillful maneuvering of the Army of the Cumberland prompted Southern commander Braxton Bragg to withdraw from the city. Bragg, however, had not given up hope of retaking Chattanooga. He gathered his men south of the city, waited for reinforcements and prepared to counterattack.

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The two armies collided in September near Chickamauga Creek in the woods of northern Georgia. The very word “Chickamauga,” according to some accounts, means “river of death.”The armies fought for three days. On the third day, Bragg’s men, reinforced by James Longstreet and veterans from Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, hit the Union line. In the chaos of battle, Rosecrans believed a gap had opened in his Union line, although none actually had. Rosecrans shifted his units, creating the very gap he feared. Longstreet punched through and knocked Rosecrans and much of the Union army off the battlefield. After a summer of defeats for the Confederacy, Chickamauga was turning into

a Southern rout. It was left to a Union commander, George Thomas, to consolidate Union troops along a ridge and hold on. He withdrew to Chattanooga only after night fell. He was later immortalized as the “Rock of Chickamauga.” After three days of fighting, Southeners claimed the field, but the Union held the town. Between 34,000 and 37,000 men on both sides were dead, wounded or missing. “The great expenditure of lives by both sides had little effect” on the overall war, writes Historian William Glenn Robertson. But Chickamauga signaled something sinister was happening to the American soul as the war dragged into its fourth year – something as dark as the word “Chickamauga” itself. Historian John Bowers, whose grandfather fought for the South at Chickamauga, cites survivor accounts that on part of the battlefield the heads of dead Union soldiers were propped on tree stumps and mutilated bodies hanged from trees. Wounded men were buried alive.“Details,” said one survivor, “are sickening.” At Chickamauga, “ ... the canker that held every lust, hate and demoniac urge seemingly in the human soul had been lanced,” wrote Bowers. “Whatever was darkest in the American psyche came out: hate, vengeance and self-preservation at all costs.”

(Above) Chickamauga Battlefield National Archives and Records Administration

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he American Civil War has been called the war of brother against brother. That description was figurative and literal. Episodes of brother battling brother were too numerous to count if one considers soldiers who fought with each other in previous wars, as Shakespeare described in “Henry V”: “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother!” One of the men who stood up with Ulysses Grant at his wedding in 1848 was James Longstreet. Both were veterans of the Mexican-American War. Longstreet was a cousin of Julia Dent, who became Grant’s wife. While Grant led Union troops during the Civil War, Longstreet served under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Grant also fought opposite Simon Bolivar Buckner, a fellow West Point graduate. Buckner made a loan to Grant when he resigned from the U.S. Army in 1854 and needed money to return home to his wife, writes historian James McPherson. Eight years later, Buckner, at the head of a Southern army, sought terms from Grant after surrendering at Fort Donelson. Grant offered no deal but unconditional surrender.

Actual family members found themselves on opposite sides, too. Henry Wise was governor of Virginia and as such signed John Brown’s death warrant after the abolitionist’s raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry. Wise was a member of Virginia’s Secession Commission and later a Confederate general. His brother-in-law, George Gordon Meade, was the victorious commander of Union forces at Gettysburg. U.S. Sen. John Crittenden, of Kentucky, a former U.S. Attorney General, had two sons serve as generals. Thomas Crittenden fought for the Union while his brother, George Crittenden, fought for the South – although the two never met in a battle. As late as December 1860, following Abraham Lincoln’s election, the elder Crittenden was still trying to work out a compromise to prevent war. Most famously, Lincoln’s own house was divided. Mary Todd Lincoln had multiple brothers and brothers-in-law fighting for the South, some of whom died in battle. At the Pamplin Historical Park in Virginia, along the Breakthrough Trail, a

historical marker was erected in honor of Maj. Clifton Prentiss, a 29-year-old Union soldier from Baltimore who was shot in the chest. Not far from away, his brother, a Southern private named William Prentiss, was shot in the leg. While stories abound of loyalties dividing families, tales of brothers actually killing each other appear to have been apocryphal. But in at least one instance, two brothers came close. Kentucky’s Breckenridge family sent its sons to opposite sides of the war. At the 1864 Battle of Atlanta, according to McPherson, one brother helped capture another.

Old Academic Building, West Point, N.Y U.S. National Archives’ Local

George Gordon Meade (left), who led Union soldiers at Gettysburg, was brother-in-law to Virginia Gov. Henry Wise (right), who later served as a general for the Confederacy

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Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

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nion President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis shared a gift for metaphor. In spring 1863, they also shared one conviction: Vicksburg, Miss., would determine the fate of their respective countries. Davis called the city “the nail head that held the South’s two halves together,” writes historian Ed Bearrs. Lincoln said Vicksburg was the “key.” “The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket,” Lincoln said. In late April 1863, Grant and 45,000 men crossed the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg. Then Grant broke from his supply line and cut off communication with the outside world.

Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald said Grant seemed to disappear, sending Lincoln into a frenzy to learn something about what was happening. “Have you anything from Grant?” Lincoln wired one of his generals. Lincoln need not have worried. For three weeks in May, Grant led one of the most stunning campaigns of the war. Union troops fought and won five battles and laid waste to the Mississippi capital of Jackson. They knocked one Southern army back and drove a larger one into a ring of rifle pits, trenches and fortifications circling Vicksburg. Rebels straggling into the city for its final defense, according to a witness quoted by historian Peter Walker, where a “woeful sight ... wan, hollow-eyed, ragged, footsore, bloody.” Still, they had enough fight left to repel two Union attacks, prompting Grant to finally settle in for a siege. As the seige dragged on through June, Southern soldiers and civilians were reduced to eating pea bread, mule meat and rats. Federals, meanwhile, poured a rain of shells

onto the city. Grant’s army became stronger as Southerners grew weaker. Reinforcements brought Union troop strength to 70,000, enough to keep at bay Southern hopes for a relief effort. Finally, on July 3, the commander of the Southern army at Vicksburg, Lt. Gen. John Pemberton, capitulated. He agreed to surrender his 30,000 men, and Grant agreed to parole them. The siege had lasted 46 days. Grant had captured the second of three Confederate armies he would take during the war. On July 4, 1863, as Lee’s battered army marched out of Gettysburg, Grant led victorious troops into Vicksburg, where they raised the U.S. flag over the courthouse. Days later, learning of Vicksburg’s fate, Confederates at Port Hudson, another Mississippi River stronghold, surrendered. The entire river was in Union hands. Grant had split the Confederacy and shut down a critical Southern supply line. “The fate of the Confederacy,” he would later say, “was sealed when Vicksburg fell.”

Maj. Gen. John Alexander Logan led part of Grant’s army during the Battle of Vicksburg and was later appointed the Library of Congress city’s military governor

Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton

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Confederate dead gathered for burial at Gettysburg

he South seemed invincible at TEight Chancellorsville, its generals godlike. weeks later, in one of the war’s more stunning reversals, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were knocked down to earth. Southern generalship brought about the undoing during the three-day battle at Gettysburg. For starters, J.E.B. Stuart, the cavalry leader Lee needed to be his eyes and ears, was out of touch on one of his glory-seeking capers. Another Southern general, A.P. Hill, set out to assess Union strength in the town but brought on the battle before Lee could concentrate his troops. Historian Edwin

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Bearss calls it “the worst decision any Confederate commander will make at Gettysburg.” A third general, Richard Ewell, opted not to take high ground south of Gettysburg during the first day’s fighting. He, too, gets blamed for the loss. Then, there is James Longstreet, who disagreed with Lee about what should happen. Longstreet wanted Lee to reposition the Army of Northern Virginia between the Union army and Washington, forcing the federals to attack once the Confederates were in a strong position. “The enemy is there,” Lee replied, “and I am going to attack him there.”

Gettysburg unfolded July 1-3, 1863. The Union line, pushed back on the first day, held up the second as troops collided in areas known as Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard and Wheat Field. A bayonet charge ordered by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain for his Maine men during the struggle for Little Round Top helped keep the Union army intact. Longstreet’s failure to attack more quickly and aggressively on the second day put him in the firing line of what-if historians who claimed his efforts were half-hearted, and he became a scapegoat for the entire Southern loss. Lee attacked again on July 3, hitting the Union center anchored behind a stone wall. Half the 14,000 Confederates who went forward in Pickett’s Charge never returned. At the end of the day, one-third of Lee’s army – 28,000 men – were casualties. The Union lost 23,000 men. Though blame was passed around, Lee accepted final, full responsibility. “It’s all my fault,” he told the survivors. Among the casualties at Gettysburg was his aura of invulnerability. Josiah Gorgas, a Confederate officer, summed up the change in fortunes: “Lee failed at Gettysburg,” he wrote July 28, 1863. “Yesterday we rode on the pinnacle of success – today absolute ruin seems to be our portion. The Confederacy totters to its destruction.” The victor, Union commander George Meade, came in for sharp criticism, too. Lincoln was furious that Meade did not pursue Lee. Lincoln chastised Meade in a letter written 10 days later, but never mailed. “(Lee) was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would ... have ended the war,” he wrote.

John Burns picked up arms and joined the Union soldiers fighting during the first day of the Gettysburg battle. Library of Congress


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obert E. Lee was worried. He won the greatest victory of his military career – the greatest victory the South would know during the Civil War – at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Still, shadows hung over the Confederacy. “Our loss was severe,” historian Stephen Sears reports Lee as saying after that battle, “and again we had gained not an inch of ground and the enemy could not be pursued.” Lee’s stunning victories with the Army of Northern Virginia in the East through 1862 – in driving the Union Army from Richmond – had been matched by Union success in prying open the Mississippi River from both ends in the West. Union armies won crucial victories in Perryville, Ky., and at Stones River, Tenn., in fall and winter 1862 – despite the beating their counterparts were taking at Fredericksburg. Ulysses Grant and his army had crossed the Mississippi by early 1863, despite a series of setbacks at Chickasaw Bluffs and elsewhere. Grant moved to strike Vicksburg, one of the

last great Southern citadels holding out along the river, linking two halves of the Confederacy together. The South had other problems, too. Lee’s victories had been costly. The 13,000 troops he lost at Chancellorsville amounted to 22 percent of his army, according to historian James McPherson, not the least of whom was Stonewall Jackson. The Union, although it suffered greater losses at 17,000 men, lost only 15 percent of its force. James Longstreet, the Southern general Lee affectionately called his “old warhorse,” said: “Even victories such as these were consuming us, and would eventually destroy us,” Sears writes in “Gettysburg.” But Robert E. Lee was formulating a plan. Invade the North again, just as he had done the previous fall, Lee proposed to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Maybe an aggressive campaign could relieve the pressure building in the West. If not, writes Sears, Lee could at least take the edge off of the Union’s impending victory.

Moving north also would give Lee an opportunity to forage for food for his starving soldiers, who had been living off sassafras and wild onions, according to McPherson. Maybe this time there would be no lost order to play into the Union commander’s hands, as had happened at Antietam in the fall of 1862. “There is always hazard in military movements,” Sears quotes Lee as saying. “But we must decide between the positive loss of inactivity and the risk of action.” Lee planned to risk the action.

“Ther e is alw ays hazar d in m ilitary m ovem ents, But w e m ust decide betw een the positive loss of inactivity and the r isk of action.” - Robert E. Lee

Soldiers cheered Lee after his victory in Chancellorsville.

The battle of Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tenn., where the Union army won an important victory in its western campaign

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orthern victory could be summarized in a word – shoes. Union soldiers had them. Confederates often did not. The disparity in footwear revealed a deeper truth: The North had material strength the South lacked. One of the war’s most significant battles, fought at Gettysburg in the summer of 1863, “began as a clash over shoes,” writes historian Geoffrey Ward. “There was rumored to be a large supply of shoes stored somewhere in the little crossroads town of Gettysburg, and at dawn on July 1 an infantry officer ... led his men there to commandeer them.” At Nashville, Tenn., where armies clashed a year later, one-third of the Southern soldiers were believed to have fought without shoes, writes Ross Massey, historian for the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society. Massey compares that to the quarter of George Washington’s soldiers who lacked

Drawing of a Confederate camp during the war

shoes at Valley Forge. An old Confederate soldier, years after the war, recalled the aftermath of that Tennessee battle for The Atlanta Constitution: “If you had been around just after the rout at Nashville, you would have thought there were ten thousand elephants loose in the country. ... half-starved and half-frozen men wrapped their feet in old sacks and any sort of rags they could get until the tracks they made were great round holes in the snow, like the tracks of elephants.” A Virginia colonel reported 175 of his men were shoeless at Antietam, according to the book, “The Antietam Campaign.” A soldier writing to a Southern newspaper concluded that only “willful negligence” explained why one third of the Army was shoeless. He signed his letter, “Barefoot.” Shoes were something of an obsession across the South, for civilians and soldiers. It wasn’t just the shoes, of course. The North

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had every material advantage. The North had more than four times as many men of military age, and 10 times the manufacturing strength, writes historian Paul Johnson, summarizing the disparities between North and South in “A History of the American People. The North had 25 times the merchant ship tonnage, produced 32 times as many firearms and had 2.4 times the railroad mileage. Historian James McPherson quotes a Southern newspaper in his book, “Battle Cry of Freedom,” describing the Confederacy’s plight: “Our slaves are clothed with Northern manufactured goods, work with Northern hoes, ploughs and other implements. ... The slaveholder rides in a Northern saddle ... and on Northern-made paper, with a Northern pen, with Northern ink, he resolves and reresolves in regard to his rights.”


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he Civil War’s wrath spared few places in America. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission counts 10,500 armed conflicts of one size or another between 1861 and 1865, ranging from minor skirmishes to full-blown battles such as Shiloh, Gettysburg and Chickamauga.Action stretched from the ridiculous but deadly St. Alban’s Raid in Vermont to Arizona’s Battle of Picacho Pass. Naval battles involving Union and Confederate ships even reached the shorts of France. The war unfolded on nearly 400 “principal battlefields,” according to the commission, with the border states of Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri bearing the worst of the fighting.A surprising number of civilians and cities were in the path of colliding armies time and again.Virginia’s Spotsylvania County, for example, was the scene of four major battles and a number of smaller ones, resulting in 100,000 casualties, over an 18-month period. In Virginia, large combating armies twice rolled over Fredericksburg and Bull Run.

Numerous other sites – from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Newtonia, Mo. – saw action multiple times. There was simply no place one could escape what evolved into total war.  Combat troops even quelled draft riots in New York City. The riots claimed the lives of more than a hundred people in 1863 and resulted in casualties on the order of some of the smaller battles. Meanwhile, hard-riding Confederate raiders, such as John Hunt Morgan, swept over large tracts of country. They brought the fight to places such as Corydon, Ind., and Salineville, Ohio. In 1864, Sterling Price led thousands of Confederates on a 1,500-mile, horseshoeshaped cavalry raid – the largest mounted campaign of the war – that drew blood at countless out-of-the-way places in Missouri and Kansas.Native Americans in the territory now known as Oklahoma were drawn into fights at Cabin Creek and Honey Springs. In fact, Oklahoma has more “principal battlefields” than Pennsylvania, and just as many as Maryland.

Perhaps no home was more starcrossed during the war than that of a Virginia farmer, Wilmer McLean. McLean’s house was in the path of the first battle at Manassas in 1861, according to the National Park Service. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard used it as his headquarters.

Perhaps no hom e w as m ore star-crossed during the war than that of a Virginia farm er, W ilm er M cLean. After a second battle there in summer 1862, McLean chose the following year to move his family as far out of harm’s way as he could. He settled in a brick house near Appomattox Courthouse, also in Virginia. In 1865, Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee used Wilmer McLean’s front parlor to sign the documents of Lee’s formal surrender.

The McLean house at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, where Grant and Lee signed the surrender ending the war in April 1865. Library of Congress

Confederate Gen. Sterling Price

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Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan

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Drawing depicts southern charge at the Battle of Chancellorsville

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wo great partnerships emerged in the forge of the American Civil War. For the North it was that of Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. For the South, it was the combination of Robert. E. Lee’s boldness and Stonewall Jackson’s tenacity – a partnership never more formidable than in May 1863. Lee had 60,000 men guarding Fredericksburg that spring. The North, which had been unable to take the city months earlier, had more than twice Lee’s number. It was enough to check Lee on one side and strike from the other. Or so thought the new Union commander, “Fighting Joe” Hooker. Hooker wasn’t about to repeat his predecessor’s mistake and hit head-on the entrenched Confederates. Instead, he planned to swing around behind Lee and strike. Hooker left 40,000 men at Fredericksburg to mask his true intentions and hold Lee in place, and he put the rest to march. But Lee soon realized what was happening. Leaving 10,000 men in Fredericksburg, he marched west to face Hooker. At that point, Hooker lost his nerve,

switching from offense to defense. Civil War author James McPherson quotes one of Hooker’s fellow officers: “Hooker could play the best game of poker I ever saw until it came to the point where he should go a thousand better, and then he would flunk.” Lee took the initiative, split his army again and sent the larger force under Jackson on a roundabout march to strike Hooker’s flank. Jackson succeeded beyond anyone’s imagining and poured rebels upon unsuspecting Federal troops who were busy preparing dinner and playing cards. Jackson knocked the Union “completely loose from its prepared position,” says historian Bruce Catton. Lee, having reunited the two pieces of his army near Chancellorsville, pressed hard and drove back Hooker. Union troops at Fredericksburg, meanwhile, overpowered the smaller force Lee had left there, prompting Lee to once again split his army. This time he left a small force to check the stunned Hooker while the rest blocked the Union advance coming from Fredericksburg. Chancellorsville was a spectacular display

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Jackson succeeded beyond anyone’s im agining and poured rebels upon unsuspecting Federal troops w ho w ere busy preparing dinner and playing cards. of Southern generalship and fighting spirit. Hooker, who had been planning to swing in behind Lee, instead had his own flank surprised. Lee, though vastly outnumbered, always managed to focus his smaller forces at the precise point of attack, so much so that the Confederates inflicted 17,000 casualties to 13,000 of their own, and drove the Union back across the Rappahannock. Not all news was good for Lee, however. Jackson, on a late-night reconnoiter after the attack, was accidentally shot by his own men. “He has lost his left arm,” Lee said upon learning the news, “but I have lost my right arm.”Jackson died eight days later. 

Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson Library of Congress


Federal Cavalry column along the Rappahannock River, Va., 1862

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fter Antietam, Abraham Lincoln looked for boldness and aggressiveness from his commanders. He sought, in other words, a Union match for Robert E. Lee. Instead he got folly – and the Union’s worst defeat of the war.When Lincoln couldn’t budge Gen. George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac to give chase as Lee withdrew to Virginia, his frustration erupted. McClellan would never be ready, to Lincoln’s mind. The president famously remarked he had been boring “with an auger too dull to take hold.” Lincoln relieved McClellan. Union leadership passed to Ambrose Burnside, who planned to push toward lightly defended Fredericksburg, secure a supply line and set his sights on Richmond.

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The Rappahannock River stood in his way. Burnside ordered pontoon bridges built in hopes of quickly slipping across. But they were slow in coming, allowing Lee to reach Fredericksburg first. Mississippi sharpshooters added to the delay by steadily picking off Northern engineers building those bridges. Burnside retaliated by shelling the town but accomplished little militarily. As soon as the bombardment stopped, the bridge builders resumed – and so did the sharpshooters. Only after Union volunteers rooted out the sharpshooters in house-to-house combat did the Army of the Potomac cross the Rappahannock. Every delay played into Lee’s hands,

allowing him to unite his forces and build an impregnable line that Burnside would encounter on the morning of Dec. 13, 1862. Union troops from Pennsylvania began the attack with an assault on the Confederate right. They found an unexpected gap in Stonewall Jackson’s line but were unable to hold after Southern troops counterattacked. The Union focus then shifted toward Marye’s Heights, where Lee’s infantry was secured behind a stone wall along a sunken road. Union troops charged the wall then broke, time and again, like waves crashing against a rock. Three thousand federals went down in one hour, according to one account. Yet they kept

coming, always to die just short of the wall. Lee lost 5,000 men that day. Burnside lost more than 13,000, almost all in the assaults on Marye’s Heights. At the end of the day, Burnside had little choice but to withdraw across the Rappahannock, with nothing to show for the slaughter. Historian Shelby Foote deferred to an Ohio newspaper to sum up the folly that was Fredericksburg: “It can hardly be in human nature for men to show more valor, or generals to manifest less judgment.”

House that withstood the bombardment of Fredericksburg Library of Congress


The Emancipation Proclamation

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onfederate Gen. Robert E. Lee laid out his plan as fall came in 1862, writes historian Edwin Bearss: Take the fight to the North. Plunder Maryland and Pennsylvania for supplies. Draw Maryland to the Southern cause, and if victorious in battle, compel the North to open negotiations and sue for peace. For Lee, his withdrawal to Virginia after failing at Antietam was a strategic setback. For Lincoln, it was the semblance of a Union victory needed to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln announced his order in September, decreeing that slaves within the

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Confederacy, as of Jan. 1, 1863, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The proclamation changed little in the South, but its effect was electric in the North and abroad. “The war to save the Union was now also the war to free the slaves,” writes Bearss. As such, European nations that considered alliances with the Confederacy opted instead to stay out of the war. Framing the war in terms of slavery also strengthened the hand of Republicans in the mid-term elections of 1862. A month before he issued the proclamation, in August 1862, Lincoln explained his

purposes to Horace Greeley and the New York Tribune: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” Freeing the slaves, Lincoln ultimately realized, was a political and military necessity. It also meant the fates of millions living in slavery – “one-eighth of the whole population,” as Lincoln said – were yoked to the war’s outcome.

Fr eeing the slaves, Lincoln ultim ately r ealized, w as a political and m ilitar y necessity. Two weeks before Antietam, Lincoln wrote in his “Meditation on the Divine Will”: “In the present Civil War, it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party ...” He revisited the line of thought three years later, in his Second Inaugural Address: “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Illustration of a slave auction

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Bridge over Antietam Creek

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attles raged across the South in the first year of the Civil War, with the Confederate states of Virginia and Tennessee bearing the worst. Ever aggressive, Robert E. Lee planned to change that in 1862 and led his Army of Northern Virginia – more than 40,000 strong – into Maryland. Lee wanted to capitalize on momentum his soldiers earned in victories that summer, historian James McPherson writes in “Crossroads of Freedom.” McPherson quotes a North Carolina soldier who said the plan was to invade the enemy’s country and “make him feel the evils he is inflicting on us.” Union Commander George McClellan had advantages, though. The Army of the Potomac was twice as large as Lee’s. And, in a curious twist, a copy of Lee’s battle plan – Special Order No. 191 – turned up in an abandoned Confederate campsite and was passed up the line to McClellan. If there was to be a Union moment in the war, this was it.McClellan, however, had seen firsthand what Lee could do with smaller forces, and he had been outgeneraled by Lee during seven days of fighting in June that saw McClellan driven

from Richmond. What’s more, McClellan knew Lee had whipped a Union army near Manassas in August. The two generals found themselves on opposite sides of Antietam Creek the morning of Sept. 17, 1862. Fighting opened with Union soldiers punching into the Confederate left. Both sides pitched back and forth through a small cornfield and nearby woods, leaving thousands dead and wounded but no clear victor. “The slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few minutes before,” wrote a Union commander. Union troops also hit the center of Lee’s line near a well-worn road remembered today as Bloody Lane. Confederates paid dearly to hold on there until a mix-up in orders – not the federal advance – caused them to pull back, according ot historians. The withdrawal gave McClellan a chance to split Lee’s army. McClellan missed it. The battle then shifted to the Confederate right, near the town of Sharpsburg, where Union General Ambrose Burnside, after much fighting, got his men across a stone bridge and into position to block Lee’s chance for retreat. However, a Confederate counterattack drove back Burnside’s men, and another chance slipped away for the Union. The battle of Antietam ended with both sides largely where they had been at daybreak. The difference was 23,000 Americans lay dead or wounded between the two armies. Ever cautious, McClellan refused the next day to push the attack, allowing Confederates to withdraw to Virginia. The Union had missed its moment.

Confederate dead along a fence at Antietam

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Preparing cotton at a gin

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lavery arrived in the New World before the Pilgrims, and it might not have survived to see Southern secession had it not been for Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. Generations of early Americans tolerated slavery, most hoping the country would outgrow it by “slow, sure and imperceptible degrees,” as George Washington said, according to Joseph Ellis’ biography, “His Excellency.” Ending slavery was the logical outcome of the revolution Washington led against the British, a fact he acknowledged in his will, which freed his own slaves upon his wife’s death.

The South, r ather than m oving aw ay fr om slaver y in the ear ly 19th centur y, actually b ecam e m or e dependent on it

The Founding Fathers, waiting for slavery’s demise, perhaps did not foresee the impact of Whitney’s machine, which separated seed from cotton and gave rise to King Cotton in the South. Nor could they have anticipated the Second Great Awakening, a religious movement that fueled the rise of abolitionism, mostly in the North. The South, rather than moving away from slavery in the early 19th century, actually became more dependent on it, writes historian Allan Nevins: “It was not relaxing the laws which guarded the system, but reinforcing them ... The South was further from a just solution to the slavery problem in 1830 than it had been in 1789.”The transformation was such that in 1837, one of that generation’s leading lights, South Carolinian John Calhoun, argued that slavery

was a “positive good.” Calhoun’s disciple, Jefferson Davis, shared that view.Four years after Calhoun’s remark, an observer traveling through the South by boat witnessed a Kentucky slave owner and his 12 newlypurchased slaves, who were chained at the wrists and looked like “so many fish upon a trot-line.” If slavery was “good,” wondered the observer, how was it that no man desired it for himself? “I never knew a man who wished to be himself a slave,” he later wrote. Thus, Abraham Lincoln had begun moving toward a position he would elucidate in later years: “He who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it.”

Washington, like other founders, also thought slavery inefficient. Only a fraction of Mount Vernon’s more than 300 slaves worked, he once noted. The rest remained because he did not desire to break up families. James Madison once reported that the owner of a 10-acre free farm in Pennsylvania made more money than he did working 2,000 acres with slaves, according to historian Paul Johnson. Confederate soldiers use cotton bales to reinforce a fortification near Yorktown, Va.

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Eli Whitney

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Albert Sidney Johnston

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aving captured Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Ulysses Grant and his Army of the Tennessee pushed up the river of the same name as spring came. The plan was for Grant and his 40,000 men to hold a few miles from a small log church called Shiloh Meeting House to link up with the Army of the Ohio. The combined force would then advance deeper into Confederate territory, capturing rail lines at nearby Corinth, Miss., that were vital to the South. Meanwhile, Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnston began organizing his 45,000 troops – many of them as raw as Grant’s recruits – at Corinth. Johnston hoped to strike before those two Union armies merged.“I have put you in motion to offer battle to the invaders,” Johnston told his troops, according to historian Shelby Foote, branding the federals “mercenaries sent to subjugate and despoil you of your liberties, property and honor.” But bad weather, bad roads and foul-ups among green troops and their commanders turned a planned one-day march by the Confederates into three days. For its part, the Union army ignored early signs the Confederates were close. Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was given a warning by his soldiers about a growing Confederate presence, but dismissed their reports as the result of “jumpy” troops, writes Foote. The Confederates hit hard on April 6, and

Illustration of the battle at Shiloh Meeting House

although they were two days behind schedule, they kept the advantage of size and surprise that morning. They drove Grant’s soldiers back toward the Tennessee River throughout the day. But in an oak thicket remembered by survivors as the Hornet’s Nest, Union troops held off successive waves of Confederate attack. Southern artillery eventually broke the Union hold late in the day, but not before those men bought time for Grant to set up a further defensive line, and not before Johnston was mortally wounded and confusion began to hamper the Confederate thrust. Earlier delays now proved fatal for the

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South. Having been reinforced during the night, Grant counterattacked the next morning, and with surprise and size on his side, he drove the Confederates from the field. When it was all over, nearly 24,000 men from both sides were dead, wounded or missing. Foote quotes a veteran who said he could walk across the battlefield on the dead and wounded and never touch the ground, calling it a “pavement of dead men.” Both sides, reeling from casualty counts, were made to realize the war’s death toll was now being counted in the tens of thousands.


described the Union ship as WTheitnesses looking like a “tin can on a shingle.” Confederate ship was like “a barn gone adrift and submerged to the eaves,” writes historian Bruce Catton. Neither may have been glamorous, but together they staged one of the most dramatic revolutions in naval warfare. On March 9, 1862, the two ships, respectively christened the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, collided in one of the most famous battles of the Civil War.

The Virginia had been a Union ship known as the Merrimack before the war. It was docked in Norfolk, Va., for repairs, but federal sailors scuttled it rather than see it fall into Southern hands when the shipyard was seized by the Confederacy. Southeners quickly raised the vessel and clad its oak frame with iron plating four inches thick. At the time, the French had an ironclad frigate, and so did the British. But, writes Catton, “no one had ever bothered to create an armor-piercing shell.” On March 8, the Virginia, which was the length of a football field, attacked two Union warships near Norfolk – the USS Congress and the USS Cumberland. The Virginia turned their decks slick with Yankee blood.

It also ran the USS Minnesota aground, all while remaining impervious to Union shelling. One witness said Union shots bounced off the Virginia as if they were rubber balls. But before the Virginia got a chance to finish off the Minnesota the next morning, the North’s antidote, the Monitor, arrived. Unlike the Virginia, the Monitor was made completely of iron. It had fewer guns, but its guns rotated.

“Badly indeed did we feel, to think those two fine old vessels had gone to their last homes, with so many of their brave crews. ... We vowed vengeance on the ‘Merrimack,’” wrote Lt. Samuel Dana Greene, a member of the Monitor crew, after the battle. The two ironclads met the next morning, wrote Greene, “and thus commenced the great battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack.” For several hours, the crews threw everything they had at each other. The ironclads collided five times, said Greene, yet neither gained an advantage. “The shot, shell, grape, canister, musket and rifle balls flew about us in every direction but did us no damage,” he wrote. “Our tower was

struck several times, and though the noise was pretty loud, it did not affect us any.” The battle ended in a draw, with the Virginia drawing off later in the day. The Monitor did not give chase, and the two

never slugged it out again. Though the fight was over, a revolution in naval combat that made wooden ships obsolete had just begun.

Illustration of the Battle of Hampton Roads, where the Monitor and Merrimack met.

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“The art of war is simple enough,” Grant would later say. “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.” Grant learned a lesson early in the war he said he never forgot: Opponents feared him as much he feared them. His friend and fellow general William Tecumseh Sherman would later write: “I’m a darned sight smarter than Grant; I know a great deal more about war, military histories, strategy and grand tactics than he does. ...

Ulysses S. Grant

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lysses S. Grant didn’t amount to much as a farmer, businessman or even a peacetime soldier. As a commander-in-chief after the Civil War, he ranks among the nation’s worst presidents. But Grant excelled at war. His superiors during the MexicanAmerican War commended him for battlefield bravery. They included a captain named Robert E. Lee.

“I know more about organization, supply and administration and about everything else than he does. But I’ll tell you where he beats me and where he beats the world; he don’t care a damn for what the enemy does out of his sight, but it scares me like hell.” In February 1862, Grant’s gift for war led to the capture of Fort Henry and nearby Fort Donelson in western Tennessee. After Grant’s forces

encircled the Southerners at the latter, along the Cumberland River, Southern Commander Simon Bolivar Buckner petitioned for terms of surrender. “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted,” came Grant’s famous reply. “I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Grant forced 12,000 Confederate soldiers to surrender. Those conquests gave a dispirited North its first victories. “The shame of Bull Run was erased,” historian Shelby Foote noted. Grant’s victories in February of 1862 did more than lift the spirits of the North. They helped keep Kentucky in the Union and opened up river routes that would allow Union armies to penetrate Tennessee that spring. For his victories, the people of the North bestowed upon Grant a new nom de guerre: The U.S. in U.S. Grant, they said, stood for “Unconditional Surrender.” As for Grant, who was promoted to Major General after the capture of Fort Donelson, his gift for war was only beginning to emerge. He would go on to do something unparalleled in the annals of the Civil

War: He would capture two more Southern armies, the next at Vicksburg in 1863 and finally that of Lee – the same man who once singled out Grant for recognition – at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.

The U.S. in U.S. Gr ant, they now said, stood for “Unconditional Sur r ender .”

General Grant outside his mobile headquarters. Library of Congress


The Manassas battlefield in 1861

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t Big Bethel and Aquia Creek in Virginia, at Hoke’s Run and Philippi in what is now West Virginia, at Boonville and Carthage in Missouri, Americans began battling one another after the fall of Fort Sumter. Casualties were light in most engagements. That changed in July 1861. A Union army of more than 30,000 commanded by Gen. Irvin McDowell set out for Richmond, Va. The immediate target was a rail junction at Manassas, not far from Washington, D.C. But Southern troops – 22,000 led by Fort Sumter hero Pierre Beauregard – blocked the fords at a creek called Bull Run. Riding to Beauregard’s aid was Gen. Joseph Johnston, with 10,000 more Confederates. The battle opened July 21, and for a while it looked as if Union forces would make short work of the new Confederate States of America. But a diversionary Union attack was

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discovered, Southern reinforcements arrived, and momentum swung to the South. What started as a Union retreat collapsed into a rout. That day, two legends were born. In an effort to rally his men, Southern Gen. Barnard Bee pointed to troops under the command of Thomas Jackson and said: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall.” Historian James McPherson notes it may not have been a compliment. Some observers thought Bee was frustrated because Jackson had not come to his relief. Whatever Bee’s motive, Jackson’s troops blocked a Union assault, and on Jackson’s order to “yell like furies,” they let loose a peculiar shouting scream that one Union veteran said sent a “corkscrew” sensation down his spine, notes McPherson. From then on, Jackson owned a new first name: “Stonewall.” And the South had found its Rebel Yell. The battle of First Manassas was a Confederate victory, but both sides were

stunned by the number of casualties, which approached 5,000. Men on both sides that day would play prominent roles in the war, including William Tecumseh Sherman, who would prove to have the same killer instincts that Jackson demonstrated. Sherman was as good a prophet as he was a warrior. He had earlier warned a Southern friend that the Confederacy lacked resources to wage war, despite Southern spirit and determination: “The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make.” The South might make headway initially, Sherman warned, but the North, with resources to match its resolve, made the outcome inevitable. But not before, he predicted, “This country will be drenched in blood.” Less than three months after Fort Sumter, Sherman’s prediction was coming true.

Monument at the Manassas battlefield

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Exterior of Fort Sumter in 1865 Library of Congress

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he bloodiest war in American history began with a battle that ended bloodlessly, notes historian Geoffrey Ward. It almost never began at all. Fort Sumter, sitting like bait in the mouth of Charleston harbor, was one of a handful of federal properties within the newly organized Confederate States of America. Following Abraham Lincoln’s election and South Carolina’s secession, federal troops at nearby Fort Moultrie withdrew to the island under the command of Major Robert Anderson and awaited resupply. Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, counseled Lincoln to abandon efforts to reinforce Fort Sumter, but the new president went forward nevertheless. Meanwhile, Georgian Robert Toombs, the first secretary of state for Southern President Jefferson Davis, advised Davis against attacking Fort Sumter. “The firing on that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen,” Toombs warned Davis, as recorded by

historian Shelby Foote. “... You will wantonly strike a hornets’ nest ... Legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. ... It puts us in the wrong. It is fatal.” Davis, like Lincoln, ignored his counsel. Commanding the Southern guns pointed at Fort Sumter was Louisiana native Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who had learned gunnery tactics at West Point from none other than the same Major Anderson he was now opposing. It was Beauregard who got the command from Davis to snap the jaw shut on that island bait. “Reduce it,” was the order. When a series of last-minute negotiations failed, Beauregard offered the honor of firing that first shot to Virginian Roger Pryor. But Pryor couldn’t accept. “I could not fire the first gun of the war,” Pryor said, according to Foote.Southern tradition and some historians hold that the honor then fell to ardent secessionist Edmund

Ruffin, who had no qualms about inaugurating what would follow.In the early morning of April 12, 1861, with Lincoln’s relief expedition nearby, Southern gunners poured thousands of rounds into Fort Sumter. Anderson returned fire, but he was overwhelmed and undersupplied, and surrender was inevitable. It came April 13. Not a man on either side had died. The South celebrated its victory but Lincoln was the real winner. He had maneuvered Davis into firing the first shots of the war. When that news reached the North, there was an explosion of support for the Union. Historian James McPherson quotes an observer who described the Northern response as “one great eagle scream” for the American flag. War rallies were held, and Lincoln capitalized on the fervor, asking for 75,000 volunteers. The first of those legions Toombs feared were gathering.

Major Robert Anderson

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Abraham Lincoln Library of Congress

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he Republic had not even survived a century. So it was in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. The country founded on the declaration that all men are endowed with “certain unalienable rights” was splintering over a question its forefathers, despite their collective wisdom, had been unable to solve – slavery. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner and author of the Declaration of Independence, who personified the contradiction at America’s heart. Compromises in 1820 and 1850 avoided fracturing the nation. But the 1854 KansasNebraska Act and a slave case out of Missouri during the period undid those compromises and put slavery on a course that would have it expand, not contract, as

its opponents hoped. Deciding the fate of a slave named Dred Scott, the U.S. Supreme Court declared blacks “had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.”

he r efer r ed t o secessionist s as “count r ym en” and appealed t o t heir shar ed m em or ies and exper iences, w hich he said st r et ched fr om ever y pat r iot g r ave t o ever y living hear t.

It had become impossible for the nation to live any longer with this Jeffersonian contradiction. Lincoln told the nation it must answer the question of “whether the Negro is not or is a man ...” “If he is not a man ... he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him,” Lincoln argued in Peoria, Ill., in 1857. “... But if the Negro is a man ... why then, my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal,’ and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man making a slave of another.” In February 1861, following Lincoln’s election, delegates from seven Southern states made good on their threats of secession. More states would follow. Lincoln made his case in his inaugural address the following month, as war loomed: “Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy.” Yet even then he referred to secessionists as “countrymen” and appealed to their shared memories and experiences, which he said stretched from every patriot grave to every living heart. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war ... You have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.” His vow of protection would extend to an island in the mouth of Charleston, S.C., harbor, where stood a masonry fort with a name honoring one of those patriot heroes: Thomas Sumter.

Lincoln’s first inauguration

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Illustration of the 1863 sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, from Harper’s weekly

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he war that spread to Fort Sumter in April 1861 and Bull Run in Virginia that July was, in many ways, a Western war. Violence had first erupted in the West when territories ripe for statehood provoked the question: Slave state or free? A war that would divide the young country over the next four years would first be won in the West. It was later won in the East, by Western generals employing a total-war philosophy learned on the frontier. And one of the American Civil War’s greatest heroes would be the country’s first Western president. Abraham Lincoln was the first commander-in-chief born in a state

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that wasn’t one of the original 13 colonies. Indeed, Kansas was bleeding long before an island in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., became part of the national consciousness. In 1856, pro-slavery raiders sacked the anti-slavery center in Lawrence, Kan. In retaliation, John Brown killed five pro-slavery men nearby. The violence escalated as hostilities erupted nationwide. Armed bands on both sides – the proUnion Jayhawkers in Kansas and proslavery Bushwhackers in Missouri – saw in the war’s outbreak a license for their actions.

In 1863, William Clarke Quantrill also sacked Lawrence, killing nearly 200 people. This time, retribution would be harsh and have the weight of the federal government. Union Gen. Thomas Ewing issued Order No. 11 – clearing Missouri counties along the Kansas border of everyone and everything. That put 20,000 people to flight, writes historian Thomas Goodrich. He quotes one refugee, Frances Twyman, who described “women walking with their babies in their arms, packs on their backs and four or five children following after them, some crying for bread, some crying to be taken back to their homes.” But there were no homes. The order left a burned-over country devoid of anything but brick chimneys. A Kansas officer bragged that his squad burned 110 houses, writes Goodrich, who described Order No. 11 as “perhaps the harshest act of the U.S. government against its own people in American history.” Twyman described a war widow, an ill infant in her arms. She sought the shade of a tree, where she rested as her baby died, while the column of refugees remained indifferent. “The crowd surged on, women and children dragging their weary limbs through the dust and heat,” he said. Violence unfolding in the West foretold one thing: What those Western generals would bring East would be severe. Historian James McPherson writes that

Ewing, a brother-in-law of William Tecumseh Sherman, “had learned what Sherman was learning – this was a war between peoples, not between armies.” And the American people – from those living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to those in Sherman’s eventual path in Georgia – would suffer mightily.

Union Gen. Thomas Ewing

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Civil War Series  

This is a 30-part series on the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil war by CNHI News Service.