1861: FIRST MANASSAS
*Lincoln claimed he would not use force to bring the South back into the Union. However, he did say he would continue to hold all US forts and other military installations in the South. In truth, many soldiers and especially officers went over to the Confederacy, and many more just went home. Only a couple federal forts remained manned in the South. One of these was Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour, which was important economically and militarily, but also symbolically, as it was in the heart of secessionism.
*Major Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter was asked to leave, and was told he could not be re-supplied. Lincoln insisted that he would maintain the fort. On 6 April, 1861, Lincoln warned the governor of South Carolina that he would soon be sending food, but no soldiers or weapons, to Sumter. President Davis told General Beauregard to prevent this and to take the fort by force if Anderson will not surrender.
*12 April, after 24 hours of battle, Sumter surrenders without any casualties except a Confederate horse.
*Lincoln has pushed the South into firing the first shot, making the South look like the aggressor.
*Lincoln calls for troops—he wants 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion.
*Robert E. Lee is offered command of the US Army, but declines because he knows Virginia is likely to leave the Union.
*States in the Upper South, who had not wanted to secede, but who accepted the right of others to do so, refused to fight against other Southerners, and Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and on 8 June, 1861, Tennessee. Richmond, Virginia becomes the capital of the CSA, less than 200 miles from Washington, D.C.
*The Border States consider secession, but are not really considered part of the Confederacy.
*Soon, the North would invade the South, and the bloodiest war in American history would begin.
*The commander of the US Army is the
ancient veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, General Winfield
Scott. He has a plan:
1. Blockade the South
2. Cut the South in half by taking the Mississippi
3. Take Richmond
*This will work, but it derisively
called the Anaconda Plan, because it meant to slowly strangle the south,
and many expected to win quickly. ‘On to Richmond!’ was the battle
*The Confederacy means to simply fight a war of defence and attrition, hoping to keep out the Yankee invader until the North gets bored and gives up.
*The Confederacy also hopes to be recognised by European powers, and to prove the South’s importance to Europe, voluntarily cuts of exports of cotton, even before the blockade goes into effect. Europeans will, in part, not support the South because so many have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
*These plans do not work.
*The North and the South have different strengths. The North has over twice as many people (21 million compared to 9 million), more factories, 70% of the railroad lines. The North also did not have to worry about slave insurrection, which kept many Southerners away from the front. The North was also rich, and had many people to tax—the Civil War sees the first income tax, although it is repealed when the war ends. The South, however, was eager for the fight, and thought it was important. Initially, many Northerners did not think they had any business attacking other Americans who wanted to govern themselves. The abolitionists want to make it a war about slavery, but in 1861, most Northerners do not want to die for the sake of black men.
*Most Americans are now using rifles firing Minie Balls, which have a useful range easily up to 500 yards, and which can travel much farther. However, the generals all learnt to fight like Napoleon, and used line tactics much like those used in the Revolutionary War. This led to many useless deaths (90% of the casualties). Cannons in the Civil War, just as before, could fire not only solid shot, but also canister and shells. Some of these were breechloaders, so they were faster to load (but did explode more) (9% of casualties). Soldiers also used swords and bayonets, but they rarely got close enough to use them (1% of casualties).
*In the summer of 1861, the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac was Irvin McDowell. With about 35,000 troops hastily trained in Washington, D.C., he marched into Virginia to seize the important railway depot of Manassas Junction.
*A creek ran through Manassas Junction called Bull Run. Northerners often named battles after geographic features (usually rivers), so the battle is sometimes called Bull Run. Southerners often named battles after towns and cities, so it is also sometimes called the Battle of Manasses.
*Manassas Junction was defended by General P.G.T. Beauregard and a little under 24,000 troops. McDowell’s troops were undisciplined and took their time getting there. This gave General Joseph Johnston time to move about 11,000 troops by rail to the battlefield, the first time troops had been moved into battle by rail. McDowell finally attacked on 21 July, 1861.
*Senators, congressmen, reporters and other members of Washington society thought this would be fun to watch. They drove down in carriages with their wives and children, packed picnic lunches, and expected a nice show.
*The battle was a mess in many ways. Neither side was, for the most part, well trained. Uniforms were not yet standardised, so some Confederates wore blue and some Yankees wore grey, and some men on both sides wore other colours completely. There were examples of soldiers approaching and overrunning their enemies because they were not recognised, and of men being shot by their own side for the same reason.
*Initially outnumbered, the Confederates initially seemed to be losing. However, they sent reinforcements into battle directly off the trains as they arrived. At one point, as the Confederates were withdrawing, General Barnard Elliot Bee of Texas saw one brigade of Virginia troops led by General Thomas Jonathan Jackson standing against the tide. He said ‘There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians!’ The Confederates stopped retreating and began to fight back. The name, of course, stuck.
*Facing stiff resistance and a new load of troops off the trains, the Federal troops turned and ran back to Washington, D.C. Had the Confederacy been better organised, they might have pursued them and ended the war right there.
*The North had about 2,900 casualties and the South about 2,000. The Federal Army was also so demoralised that no major battles would be fought for the rest of the year. They would not invade the South, and the South did not need to invade the North.
*General McClellan replaces McDowell,
builds a great army, and does nothing with it.
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This page last updated 29 September, 2003.