UNITED STATES HISTORY
A New Birth of Freedom
*The most famous battles of the Civil War were fought in the
Eastern Theatre: First Manassas (or First Bull Run), where
railroads were first used; the Peninsular Campaign, including the
Seven Days, when McClellan could well have taken Richmond; the
Shenandoah Valley Campaign, in which Jackson held off Union forces
three times his number or more; Second Manassas (or Second Bull
Run), where another Confederate victory convinced Lee to invade
Maryland, where he fought at Sharpsburg (or Antietam) and
withdrew, allowing Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation;
Fredericksburg, where the South won a great victory;
Chancellorsville, another Southern victory won at great cost; and
Gettysburg, the largest battle ever fought in North America.
However, some historians would argue that the war was actually won
by the armies in the West (meaning between the Appalachian
Mountains and the Mississippi River) and at sea.
*The Anaconda Plan was slow, but it was sure. As 1862
passed, the blockade was beginning to work. The North now
had to take the Mississippi, meaning the entire Mississippi
Valley, including the Cumberland and the Tennessee.
*As part of the plan to take the Mississippi River (and the Upper
South in general), U.S. Grant attacked Fort Henry on the Tennessee
River on 6 February, 1862, and ten days later took Fort Donelson
on the Cumberland with the help of Union gunboats sailing off the
Ohio River onto its Confederate tributaries. The Confederate
commander had once lent money to Grant, and he expected some mercy
now. Grant, however, demanded unconditional surrender and
got it on 16 February. This made Grant famous, and people
began to say that his initials, U.S., stood for 'Unconditional
*Not only did this protect the Ohio River, but it let the Union
take Nashville, the first of many Confederate capitals to
fall. Lincoln appointed as military governor the most
prominent Southern member of Congress to remain loyal to the
Union, Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, a former Tennessee
governor, congressman, state legislator, and mayor of Greeneville.
*From Fort Donelson, Grant marched toward the Mississippi River
leading the Army of the Tennessee. Along the way, he ran the
Confederate Army of Mississippi, commanded by Albert Sidney
Johnston. On 6 April, 1862, Johnston’s army surprised
Grant’s men, in some cases overrunning camps where men were
cooking breakfast—the hungry Confederates stopped to eat their
*This battle was fought near a small church named Shiloh, not far
from the town of Pittsburg Landing.
*The United States Army of the Tennessee, which was later joined
by the US Army of the Ohio had 65,085 men when they were combined,
while the Confederate Army of Mississippi had 44,968 men.
*Most of the Yankees ran when the first attack came, but General
Benjamin Prentiss’s division held out valiantly for most of the
day in a sunken road that came to be called the Hornet’s Nest,
after the buzzing of bullets overhead. Eventually, after
being pounded by artillery, they were all killed or captured.
*Grant’s men were pushed all the way to the edge of the Tennessee
River. However, during the fighting, Johnston was killed,
bleeding to death from a wound in the leg. His surgeon could
have saved him if he had not been sent off to tend to Union
prisoners. Johnston was (for the moment) replaced by
Beauregard, who did not win the battle.
*During the night, Grant was reinforced by General Don Carlos
Buell’s Army of the Ohio. They fought back the next day, and
the fighting was intense and bloody. By the end of 7th
April, 1862 more men had died in this single battle than in all
previous American wars put together. Estimated casualties
were 23,746 total; 13,047 from the USA and 10,699 from the CSA.
*Although Grant won the battle in the end, some of Lincoln’s
advisors wanted Grant relieved of command because of the shock at
the unprecedented death toll. Lincoln refused, saying he
needed a man who would fight.
*After this difficult victory, the Union Army captured Memphis and
then went to attack Vicksburg. This was an important
fortified city on the Mississippi, and eventually the only point
on the river still controlled by the South. Until the Union
gained control of Vicksburg, they could not truly control the
Mississippi River. Grant tried unsuccessfully to attack
Vicksburg from several angles over the course of the next 14
*Beauregard had health problems, and also did not get along with
Davis, so he was replaced by Davis’s friend, Braxton Bragg, who
had served with him (and performed brilliantly) at Buena
Vista. Bragg renamed the Army of Mississippi the Army of
*Bragg had many detractors. A significant number of his
officers thought him incompetent, tyrannical, and possibly insane,
and sometimes would not follow his orders. His men did not,
on the whole, like him, and he has been largely regarded as a poor
general, and occasionally blamed for the South’s entire loss of
the War. This may not be entirely fair—some of his men and
officers felt that he did the best he could with what he had, for
attention, and more importantly, men and materiel, were mostly
concentrated in the Eastern theatre.
*In the fall of 1862, as Lee marched into Maryland, Bragg marched
into Kentucky and performed moderately well at first, but like Lee
was fought to a draw at Perryville and ended up retreating to
Murfreesboro, where (in a battle also called Stones River) on 31
December, 1862 to 2 January, 1863 General William Rosecrans with
44,000 men beat Bragg’s 37,000, forcing him to retreat to
Chattanooga. Casualties were 23,515 total--13,249 US and
*This victory boosted the morale of Grant’s Army of the Tennessee,
which had repeatedly failed to capture Vicksburg. Seven
attempts to do attack it failed, partly due to the Confederate
defence and partly to the swampy terrain that surrounded it,
making it hard for the Union Army to approach the city, which
guarded the Mississippi. Many men died of disease in the
*Finally, on 18 May, 1863, Grant began to besiege Vicksburg,
shelling the town constantly. The people lived in improvised
bomb shelters, and eventually were reduced to eating horses and
rats to survive.
*On 4 July, 1863, after a month and a half under siege, the city
surrendered on the same day Lee began his retreat from
Gettysburg. The Mississippi belonged to the Union
again. These combined Union victories caused many people to
consider this the turning point of the War (although some view
Sharpsburg (or Antietam) to be the true turning point, since it
openly made the war about freeing the slaves).
*Lee sent Longstreet west to help Bragg, but, like many generals,
Longstreet did not get along with his new commander.
Nonetheless, they worked well enough together when the US Army
approached Chattanooga and attacked Bragg. The Confederate
army withdrew, but not too far, and Rosecrans pursued them to a
little creek called the Chickamauga just over the border in
*On 18 September, 1863, Bragg attacked. Rosecrans held at
first, but on 19 September, he was told there was a gap in his
line. He sent men to fill it, but in doing so opened up a
new gap in his line. Longstreet’s men rushed into the
breech, disrupting the Federal Army so that they fled all the way
back to Chattanooga, although if Bragg had pursued them harder, he
might have completely defeated them. The battle claimed an
estimated 34,624 casualties (16,170 for the Union; 18,454 for the
*Ambrose Burnside was sent West in 1863, as well, and took
Jonesborough in September, 1863 to seize the supply of salt, for
which Lincoln cursed the entire town as a waste of the Army's
time. After that, he moved on to Knoxville, and James
Longstreet was sent to get him out.
*In the battle of Fort Sanders on 29 November, 1863, Longstreet’s
men, trying to sneak up to the fort in the night, tripped on
telegraph wire strung for that purpose, fell into a moat around
the fort, and eventually retreated in shame.
*In October 1863, Grant was given overall command of the Western
armies, and he went to Chattanooga and began to attack the
Confederates on 23 November. On 24 November the Union took
Lookout Mountain, and on the 25th, Missionary Ridge. The
Confederates retreated from the Chattanooga area into
Georgia. Combined with Longstreet’s loss at Fort Sanders,
this gave Tennessee to the Union.
*On 27 December 1863, Bragg was replaced by Joseph Johnston,
although his friend Jefferson Davis hated to do it.
Johnston's task would be to prevent Grant from pushing into
Georgia. Grant himself was soon promoted to Commanding
General of the US Army and brought back East in March, 1864.
William Tecumseh Sherman replaced him in the West, and, if
anything, proved even more tenacious.
*Grant and Sherman devised a plan for the army. With the
Anaconda Plan's first two objectives completed--the Southern coast
blockaded to cut the Confederacy off from the rest of the world
and the Mississippi seized to cut the South in half--it was at
last time for the third part of the Plan: on to
*In 1864, Grant moved into Virginia and began to attack Lee.
Grant’s army was larger than Lee’s, but Lee’s men were mostly
veterans, and Grant’s were mostly new recruits. Grant also
was not a brilliant commander in the field; he killed thousands in
frontal assaults, but he did so in part because he knew he could
afford it—the North had far more men to spare than did the
South. When Grant’s campaign in Virginia began, Grant had
about 123,000 men compared to Lee’s 65,000, and Grant knew his men
could be replaced while Lee's could not.
*Grant and Lee faced off in what is called the Battle of the
Wilderness, in Virginia not far from Chancellorsville. This
is actually a series of battles and skirmishes. The fighting
was so intense that the discharge from some of the guns set the
dry woods on fire, and some men were burnt to death in the ensuing
forest fires. The battle lasted from 2 to 6 May, 1864,
although there were some skirmishes before and after that period.
*Grant took terrible casualties (17,666 compared to 7,500), but
refused to retreat. Rather, he moved South on the 8th, and
attacked again. The Battle of the Wilderness was a tactical
victory for the CSA but a strategic win for the North.
*Grant’s next attack was at Spotsylvania Courthouse. There
Lee’s men managed to dig in on a series of hills. The battle
lasted from 8-19 May when Grant decided he could not take the
field and moved on after taking 18,000 casualties and inflicting
12,000 on Lee's army.
*From 31 May to 3 June, 1864, Grant (with 105,000 men) fought Lee
at Cold Harbor, where Lee’s men (59,000 including new
reinforcements) were again dug in. Cold Harbor is infamous
for fighting so intense that 7,000 men died in less than an
hour. More would have been killed as Grant ordered further
attacks, but his officers refused to obey his orders, knowing them
to be futile. Grant decided now to never again attack
Confederate fortifications: he would instead turn to siege
*At Cold Harbor, the Union army lost 13,000 men against a loss of
only 2,600 for the Confederates. The battle brought the toll in
Union casualties since the beginning of May to a total of more
than 52,000 compared to 23,000 for Lee. For leading his men
through such losses, Grant was condemned across the North and the
South as a butcher and a monster, and many called for his removal,
but Lincoln stood by him, happy to have a general who would keep
*Grant moved out again, and Lee fled before him, getting to
Petersburg, a major rail hub south of Richmond, where he dug in,
and Grant prepared for a lengthy siege, ultimately lasting from 15
June, 1864 to 2 April, 1865. The Union did try a few
assaults on the Confederate lines, the most bizarre of which was
the Battle of the Crater, on 30 July, 1864.
*Sheridan, hero of Missionary Ridge, accompanied Grant on most of
this campaign, but after the siege of Petersburg began, he moved
on to the Shenandoah Valley, where he burnt fields full of crops,
as well as barns, mills, and other public buildings, killed or
confiscated livestock, captured towns such as Winchester, and
defeated several Confederate armies.
*As Grant pushed into Virginia in the East, in the West, Sherman
began to march towards Atlanta, but was delayed and deflected by
Joseph Johnston, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Joe Wheeler.
Soon he gave up on getting supplies from home, and began to live
off the land, which had the added benefit of terrorising the
South. Sherman advanced, but very slowly, as Johnston
defended fairly well with the troops he had.
*With Sherman and Grant both stalled outside their objectives,
Lincoln grew worried about his own political survival. Many
Northerners had grown weary of the war, especially after the
unspeakable slaughter of Grant’s campaigns in Northern
Virginia. Party politics also caused problems for Lincoln,
both from the Democrats and his own Republicans.
*In 1864 the Democrats were split. Stephen Douglas had died
in 1861, and the party had no leader. Some Democrats
supported the War and were called War Democrats. Some
opposed it and were called Peace Democrats. Some Copperheads
opposed not just Lincoln and the War, but the Federal government,
which they saw as tyrannical, corrupt, and in the pockets of New
*Lincoln also had opponents in his own party. In his own
Cabinet, Chase still thought he could be a better president,
until, to keep him out of trouble, Lincoln made him Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court in 1864 to replace Roger B. Taney upon his
*Lincoln wanted to unify the North, so he did not run as a
Republican, but ran for the Union Party, comprising Republicans
and War Democrats. He chose as a running mate, not Hannibal
Hamlin, but Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, the most prominent
Southern Democrat to remain loyal.
*The Democrats ran George McClellan, on a platform that planned to
end the War. Little Mac was still popular with his old
soldiers, and it was feared the Army would vote with him.
Lincoln told voters ‘don’t change horses in the middle of a
stream’ and ‘vote as you shot,’ but he was not sure he would
win. Many of Lincoln’s cabinet advised him not to hold the
election at all, but to cancel it due to the emergency of war,
but, despite his violation of some civil liberties earlier in the
conflict, Lincoln refused to even consider cancelling or
postponing the election.
*Then in the summer, several things happened that boosted
Lincoln’s popularity among the people. On 5 August, 1864,
Admiral Farragut attacked and took Mobile, Alabama, closing off
another Confederate port to blockade-runners. During the
attack, Farragut had been warned that torpedoes lay in the water
ahead in Mobile Bay, and he uttered his famous line, ‘Damn the
torpedoes, full speed ahead!’
*Sheridan was also destroying the Shenandoah Valley, continued to
do so from August, 1864 until April, 1865.
*In the west, Davis was angry that Johnston was retreating rather
than attacking Sherman. He relieved Johnston from command
when he was not far outside Atlanta and replaced him with John
Bell Hood, who had distinguished himself at Antietam, Gettysburg,
and especially Chickamauga.
*Hood, impressed by Sherman’s foray into enemy territories without
supplies or support, decided to do the same thing: he
abandoned Atlanta on 1 September, 1864 and headed for Tennessee,
planning to live off the land and make Sherman chase him.
Sherman let him go. On 7 September, 1864 Sherman captured
Atlanta. Lincoln finally had some victories to show the
*In November, Lincoln offered furloughs to many soldiers to go
home and vote. He also allowed soldiers in the trenches to
cast absentee ballots. Lincoln ultimately won with about 55%
of the popular vote (2.2 million compared to 1.8 million) and 212
electoral votes to McClellan’s 21.
*On 16 November, Sherman burnt Atlanta to the ground, destroying
the factories there and beginning his March to the Sea, designed
to terrorise the South and destroy both their materiel and their
will to use it.
*On 30 November, 1864, Hood, in his ill-fated invasion of
Tennessee, suffering a major decisive defeat at Franklin,
Tennessee, taking 6,261 casualties (compared to 2,326 US
casualties). Among the Confederate casualties were 15 of the
28 generals under Hood's command.
*Hood then attacked at Nashville on 16 December, 1864 with the
21,000 troops remaining to him, and his army was almost completely
destroyed. Although no-one is sure, records indicate that
Hood may have lost 18,000 or 19,000 men to death and prison
*Hood resigned his command on January 23, 1865. Johnston was
put back in command and told to do what he could with what
remained of the armies of the South.
*Was Hood on drugs? Yes: he was dependent on painkillers,
especially laudanum following a bad injury at Gettysburg that
paralysed his left arm and the loss of his leg at Chickamauga.
*While Hood destroyed his own army in Tennessee, Sherman was
marching from Atlanta to Savannah, burning, looting, and
destroying on the way, in order to make the War so terrible that
no-one would have the stomach for it any more. On 22
December, 1864 he captured Savannah, and offered it to Lincoln as
a Christmas gift.
*With Atlanta burnt and Lincoln re-elected, the North had
essentially won the war. It was only a matter of time until
Grant could get past the trenches south of Petersburg and move on
to Richmond. During that time, Sherman would continue to
blaze a trail of destruction.
*In January 1865, Sherman left Savannah and moved into South
Carolina. Although they had been harsh in Georgia, foraging
for food and killing any who tried to stop them, Sherman’s men had
a special hatred for South Carolina (and Massachusetts), blaming
their radicalism for starting the war. Everything that could
be burnt in South Carolina was destroyed, including the capital,
Columbia, which was destroyed on 17 February, 1865.
*By March 9th, Sherman's troops had passed out of the state and
into North Carolina, leaving behind a path of total destruction
100 miles wide and extending the entire breadth of the
state. Sherman’s march is often seen as brilliant by
military historians, is generally considered amazing for the speed
in which it covered the swampy and river-filled terrain of South
Carolina’s Low Country, was certainly seen as innovative at the
time by his friends and barbaric by his enemies, and is one of the
reasons the South was so slow in reconciling with the North.
*During much of this action, Sherman was opposed by Joseph
Johnston, given command again of any forces he could scrape
up. Unfortunately for the South, that was not much.
*As the South declined, Francis Blair, one of Lincoln’s advisors
and the father of Lincoln's first Postmaster-General, unofficially
offered the South a plan of peace and reunification through a
joint war with Mexico. The Confederate government wanted
peace, but not reunification, but agreed to a meeting with
Secretary of State Seward on 3 February, 1865.
*At the last minute, Lincoln decided to go too, and met with
Confederate Vice-president Alexander Stephens at Hampton Roads,
Virginia aboard the US transport River Queen. Lincoln
offered an end to war if the South would accept the XIII
Amendment, end hostilities, and disband the Confederate
Army. In return, Lincoln hinted that he would use his
Presidential pardon to protect Confederates from imprisonment and
might be able to offer $400 million in partial compensation for
emancipated slaves, totalling about 15% of the value of all slaves
in 1860. It may have even been hinted that even the
ratification of the XIII Amendment might not have been an absolute
condition. The Southern leaders saw this offer, based on the
certainty of their defeat, as demeaning, and refused.
*In late March and early April of 1865, Grant’s army outside
Petersburg made several attacks against the thinly-defended lines,
and succeeded in destroying much of Lee’s reserve forces.
*Unable to easily reinforce his defences, Lee could not continue
the defence of Petersburg, and retreated during the night of 2/3
April, 1865. Richmond was evacuated at the same time, and
parts of the city burned to keep supplies out of Yankee
hands. On 3 April, 1865, Petersburg was occupied by the
*Lee moved west, but was soon surrounded by the US Army at
Appomattox Courthouse. Of his old Corps commanders only one
remained: Longstreet. Jackson was long dead, Stuart
has been killed at Yellow Tavern in 1864, A P Hill had been killed
at Five Forks, and Ewell had been captured on the retreat from
Richmond. Of his great army, perhaps 28,000 remained,
desertions continued every day, and he could not feed the men he
had. On 9 April, he offered to surrender to Grant.
Grant was generous in victory, allowing all Confederates to go
home, to keep their horses and mules for farm work, and even let
Confederate officers keep their pistols. Grant even provided
rations to Lee's starving army. The surrender formally
occurred on 12 April in the home of Wilmer McLean, who had also
lived at Manassas, and let Beauregard use his house as
headquarters in 1861.
*Johnston surrendered to Sherman on 26 April, 1865, and got terms
at least as lenient as those Grant gave Lee.
*With Johnston’s surrender, the war was essentially over, although
some fighting would continue into May.
*On 2 June, 1865 General E. Kirby Smith officially surrendered the
Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi.
*On June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger in Galveston,
Texas announced the end of slavery in Texas, where many slaves
were still unaware of the Emancipation Proclamation issued almost
three years earlier. This action, which freed the last
Confederate slaves on June 19th came to be celebrated in Texas,
and eventually across the country, as Juneteenth.
*The Cherokee Stand Watie became the last Confederate general to
surrender on 23 June, 1865.
*The very last Confederates under arms, the crew of CSS Shenandoah,
surrendered on 6 November, 1865, after sailing all the way around
the world and ending up in Liverpool.
This page last updated 18 July, 2020.