"We have shared the
incommunicable experience of war. We felt, we still feel, the passion of
life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched by fire."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, on the young soldiers of the Civil War
A page containing quotes from and about the American Civil War.
~ Quotes from\about the War
~ PBS The Civil War by Ken Burns (producer)
~ Lethal Glory by Phillip Katcher
~ The American Civil War Source Book by Philip Katcher
~ With my Face to the Enemy by Robert Cowley (editor)
~ The Civil War in Fiction
~ Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
~ The Civil War by Shelby Foote
~ The Speeches of Abraham Lincoln
It is almost inconceivable
that citizens of that time were willing to support so bloody a war, by
putting so high a price upon Union and Liberty.
- Michael Novak
Most historians say
that we're fascinated by the Civil War because, even more than the Revolution,
it shaped our nation and national character. That is certainly a good reason
to be interested in the war. Of course, the war also presents a gripping,
exciting, moving, tragic, epic story, displaying, all at once, the meanness,
brutality, compassion, and greatness of which human beings are capable.
It is also, as this chapter suggests, an unfinished story. The divisions
and injustices that spawned the war have yet to be eradicated. But, perhaps
most of all, the Civil War was an event enacted by men and women with whom
we feel a profound kinship. America, North and South, has never been a
militaristic society. Those caught up in the Civil War were not hirelings
of a warlike state. They were doctors, lawyers, clerks, brokers, farmers,
brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives,
lovers. They were people like us, and their lives were like the lives most
of us live. Only theirs were fiercely moved by patriotic passions, pierced
by bugle calls, shattered by bullets, torn by the cries of the wounded,
and, perhaps, buried in the silence of the slain.
- Alan Axelrod
"There is a terrible
war coming, and these young men who have never seen war cannot wait for
it to happen, but I tell you, I wish that I owned every slave in the South,
for I would free them all to avoid this war."
- Robert E. Lee, before The American Civil War
"You people of the
South don't know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood,
and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against
civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don't know what you're
talking about. War is a terrible thing!
You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it ...
Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth -- right at your doors.
You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail."
- William T. Sherman, letter to a Southern friend at the outset of the war
"Grant stood by me
when I was crazy and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand
by each other."
- William T. Sherman, backing his friend and then President Ulysses S. Grant
"Be assured, he is
not an ordinary man."
- Union General George Meade's first opinion of Ulysess S. Grant
"He walked with long,
ungraceful strides, enormous feet adding to the spectacle, and he sat a
horse as if leaning into a strong wind."
- James Robertson Jr, describing the posture of Stonewall Jackson
"Every man that tried
to destroy the Government, every man that shot at the holy flag in heaven,
every man that starved our soldiers... every man that wanted to burn the
negro, every one that wanted to scatter yellow fever in the North, every
man that opposed human liberty, that regarded the auction-block as an altar
and the howling of the bloodhound as the music of the Union, every man
who wept over the corpse of slavery, that thought lashes on the naked back
were a legal tender for labour performed, every one willing to rob a mother
of her child — every solitary one was a Democrat."
- Robert Ingersoll, urging a Republican vote in 1880
The first part of the
book centres on Montgomery Meigs, the Quartermaster General of the Grand
Army of the Republic, whose logistical genius during the Civil War enabled
Grant to hammer Lee all the way to Appomattox. Like all graduates of the
American military academy at West Point in those 19th-century days, Meigs
was an engineer. Among his many civil achievements, he built the great
dome of the Capitol in Washington... In righteous vengeance, Meigs laid
out Arlington Memorial Cemetery in the grounds of General Lee's mansion
overlooking the Potomac.
Using Meigs as a touchstone, the author wanders into a perceptive discussion of the founding of West Point and how it represented the familiar dichotomy in American thought between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton; the former believing a standing army was a standing threat to the republic and the latter seeing a standing army as a requisite ingredient of national power. Jefferson basically won the argument until 1945, Schama says, from which point Hamilton has taken over this 'vast, permanent corporate institution'.
- Raymond Seitz, reviewing "The American Future" by Simon Schama, "The Telegraph"
"There are some places
where history just grabs you by the jugular. This is one of them."
- Simon Schama, overlooking the battlefield at Gettysburg, "The American Future"
"From the days of the
Founding Fathers, right to this (2008) election, how and where America
fights to defend its freedom, has been the ultimate question in its politics.
The one that triggers rage and sorrow; the one that asks is the price of
blood too dear? Or, if it is to stay true to its convictions, does America
have no coice but to put its lives on the line?"
- Simon Schama, "The American Future"
# BRUCE CATTON
The enduring realization
that when a great challenge comes, the most ordinary people can show that
they value something more than they value their own lives. When the last
of the veterans had gone, and the sorrows and bitterness which the war
created had at last worn away, this memory remained.
- Bruce Catton, on the legacy of the war
Here was the greatest
and most moving chapter in American history, a blending of meanness and
greatness, an ending and a beginning. It came out of what men were, but
it did not go as men had planned.
- from "The Coming Fury"
[From:- Never Call
Unquenchable guerrilla warfare was perhaps the one thing that would have ruined America forver. It was precisely what Federal soldiers like Grant and Sherman dreaded most — the long, slow-burning, formless uprising that goes on and on after the field armies have been broken up, with desperate men using violence to provoke more violence, harassing the victor and their own people with a sullen fury that no dragoons can quite put down. The Civil War was not going to end that way — although it was natural to suppose that it might; because civil wars often do — and the conquered South as not going to become another Ireland or Poland, with generation after generation learning hatred and the arts of back-alley fishting. General Lee ruled it out, not only because he was General Lee but aso because he had never seen this war as the kind of struggle that could fo on that way. He understood the cause he served with complete clarity. His South had meant neither revolution nor rebellion; it simply desired to detach itself and live in its own chosen part of an unchanging past, and Mr. Davis had defined it perfectly when he said that all his people wanted was to be let alone. Borne up by that desire, the Confederacy had endured four years of war, and it was breaking up now because this potential for inspiring the human spirit had been exhausted. With unlimited confidence the Confederacy had fought an unlimited war for a strictly limited end. To go on fighting from the woods and the lanes and the swamps might indeed plague the Yankees and infect a deep wound beyond healing, but the one thing on earth it could not do was give the South a chance to be left alone with what used to be.
Yet men have to live by their memories, and the memory of death and defeat is bitter enough to keep unforgiving men carrying their rifles across the hills for generations. Lee made it possible for men to turn this memory into a strange source of strength, a tragic and moving remembering that provided a base on which the present could be accepted and the future could be faced. Because of what happened when he and Grant at last met, Lee when he left Appomattox — a paroled soldier without an army — rode straight into legend, and he took his people with him. The legend became a saving grace. The cause that had failed became The Lost Cause, larger than life, taking on color and romance as the years passed, remembered with pride and with heartache but never again leading to bloodshed. Civil wars have had worse endings than this.
A little of it is due to Grant. It was not the grim old Unconditional Surrender with whom Lee sat down to talk terms. Instead it was a sensitive man who angrily stopped his own soldiers when they began firing loud salutes in loud celebration of their victory, reminding them that the late members of the Army of Northern Virginia were their fellow citizens now, and calling on them to send rations into the Confederate camp.
It would, of course,
be easy to make too much of the general air of reconciliation. Lee's soldiers
were hard, passionate fighters, they did not enjoy defeat, they were not
ready to start loving their enemies with sentimental fondness, and there
were wounds that would be a long time healing. And yet by any standard
this was an almost unbelievale way to end a civil war, which by all tradition
is the worst kind of war there is. Living for the rest of their lives in
the long gray shadow of the Lose Cause, these men were nevertheless going
on toward the future. General Lee, who had set the pattern, had given them
the right words: "...unsurpassed courage and fortitude... steadfast to
the last... the consciousness of duty faithfully performed." Pride in what
they had done would grow with the years, but it would turn them into a
romantic army of legend andf not in a sullen battalion of death.
Here is how the legend had worked. Fifteen years after the surrender, one of Lee's veterans — Sergeant Berry Benson from South Carolina — sat down to write his memoirs... He wrote, as one who had been through the mill and not as a starry-eyed recruit, and this is how he put it:
"Who knows but it may be given to us, after this life, to meet again in the old quarters, to play chess and draughts, to get up soon to answer the morning roll call, to fall in at the tap of the drum for drill and dress parade, and again to hastily don our war gear while the monotonous patter of the long roll summons to battle? Who knows but again the old flags, ragged and torn, snapping in the wind, may face each other and flutter, pursuing and pursued, while the cries of victory fill a summer day? And after the batrtle, then the slain and wounded will arise, and all will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say: Did it not seem real? Was it not as in the old days?"
The worst experience on earth could be remembered that way, with a still-youthful veteran dreaming about foes meeting under two flags and one all-embracing sky. No civil war ever ended quite like this. The men who lost at the Boyne or at Culloden did not write memoirs in this vein.
It began with one act of madness, and it ended with another. John Brown heard history's clock strike in the night and tried to hurry dawn along with gunfire; now John Wilkes Booth heard the clock strike, and he tried with gunfire to restore the darkness. Each man stood outside the human community, directed by voices the sane do not hear, and each kept history from going logically... The line from Harper's Ferry to Ford's Theater is a red thread binding the immense disorder of the Civil War into an irrational sort of coherence.
Lincoln wanted to do two things at once, each of them extraordinarily difficult. The millions of the South who had tried so hard to leave the Union must somehow be brought back into the old relationship, welcomed rather than coerced, themselves rebuilding the shattered house until reconciliation was complete. Along with this, the Negro must have complete freedom and membership in the American community, he must be brought along as fast as possible to full citizenship, and — hardest of all — much of this must be done by the very society that had formerly held him in slavery, with the understanding and approval of the people who had beaten that society into helplessness. Both reunion and liberty were to be total and indivisible. Mr Lincoln was promising reconstruction, not just of the broken South but of America itself.
The radical Republicans would attack Lincoln but they would also work with him — in the end because he and they wanted to reach the same goal. It had been so during the war, and it could have been so after the war. The fury with which the radicals eventually destroyed Andrew Johnson came chiefly because Johnson was interested in just half of the Lincoln program, the half that the radicals would accept only if a new deal for the Negro came with it. They had their full share of hate and vindictiveness, to be sure, but they were also passionately interested in freedom, sharing with Edward Bates the belief that if the Negro was freed at all he was freed completely and must share in all of the safeguards which the Constitution provides for free Americans . This spring they were watching Abraham Lincoln with much suspicion, tormented by the oly myth that he too weak to take a firm stand, fearful lest the Negro be sacrificed in the interests of an easy peace; and yet there was no impassable gulf between their position and his. In thought and sentiment they were near to him.
No one will ever know what Abraham Lincoln would have done — with Stanton's scheme for military government, with radicals like Wade and Sumner and Stevens, with any of the separate aspects of the intricate problem that lay ahead — because it was at this delicate moment (about half-past ten on the night of April 14) that Booth came on stage with his derringer. Booth pulled the trigger, and the mind that held somewhere in cloudy solution the elements that might some day have crystallized into an answer for the nation's most profound riddle disintegrated under the impact of a one-ounce pellet of lead: the heaviest bullet, all things considered, ever fired in America. Thinking to destroy a tyrant, Booth managed to destroy a man who was trying to create a broader freedom for all men; with him, he destroyed also the chance for a transcendent peace without malice and with charity for all. Over the years, many people paid a high price for this moment of violence.
Once such soldiers as Lee and Johnston had formally accepted military defeat, there would be amazingly little trouble in getting the seceded states to reaccept the Union — provided that these states were allowed to interpret emancipation and Negro rights in their own way. The dream of an independent Southern nation was fading rapidly, and what was left of it could spiral off into Lost Cause romanticism without every again being a real problem to anyone; what remained, however, touched with no romanticism whatever, was the determination that the Negro, slave or free, must stay just about where he was and must on no account be given any real control over his own destiny. On this point the reserves of resistance were all but inexhaustible.
All over, finished
forever, ready to be done up in veterans' reunion music and oratory and
lilacs-on-gravestones in a thousand village cemeteries, if it had been
nothing more than tragedy and shared agony. Jefferson Davis was a prisoner
in a casemate at Fort Monroe, dignity returning to him as he endured the
malice of captors who still looked on him as a dangerous man...
It began to seem that there had been neither clear-cut victory nor defeat, but that governors and governed were simply trying to live their way through a problem that was confusingly unsettled. Something had been won; but it was nothing more, and at the same time nothing less, than a chance to make a new approach toward a goal that had to be reached if the war and the nation that had endured it had final meaning. The ship was moving through Lincoln's dream, toward a dark indefinite shore, it had a long way to go, and the sky contained no stars the ordinary mortal could see. All that was certain was that the voyage was under way.
[From:- The Civil War]
Nathan Bedford Forrest ... used his horsemen as a modern general would use motorized infantry. He liked horses because he liked fast movement, and his mounted men could get from here to there much faster than any infantry could; but when they reached the field they usually tied their horses to trees and fought on foot, and they were as good as the very best infantry. Not for nothing did Forrest say the essence of strategy was "to git thar fust with the most men".
# THE CIVIL WAR (PBS Documentary Series)
The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, from Valverde, New Mexico, and Tullahoma, Tennessee, to St. Albans, Vermont, and Fernandina on the Florida coast. More than 3 million Americans fought in it, and over 600,000 men, 2 percent of the population, died in it.
Between 1861 and 1865, Americans made war on each other and killed each other in great numbers — if only to become the kind of country that could no longer conceive of how that was possible.
What began as a bitter dispute over Union and States' Rights, ended as a struggle over the meaning of freedom in America. At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said perhaps more than he knew. The war was about a "new birth of freedom."
The 1860 election became a referendum on the southern way of life.
The Confederate Constitution was almost identical to that of the United States.
Like most Rebel soldiers, Sam Watkins owned no slaves.
"I would rather be
assassinated than see a single star removed from the American flag."
- Abraham Lincoln
"The struggle of today
is not altogether for today — it is for a vast future also."
- Abraham Lincoln
"Let me tell you what
is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds
of thousands of lives you may win Southern independence, but I doubt it.
The North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive
people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin
to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance
of a mighty avalanche."
- Governor Sam Houston of Texas
For one day the Confederate
Navy ruled the sea...
- On the success of the Confederate ironclad Merrimack
Shiloh had as many casualties as Waterloo, and yet there were another 20 Waterloos to come.
"Emancipation is the
demand of civilization. That is a principle; everything else is an intrigue."
- Ralph waldo Emerson (1862)
"He could not make
himself a fool, nor make the Union a fool, by standing up for principles
that could not be vindicated on the battlefield."
- Barbara Fields, on Lincoln's delay emancipating the slaves
"It was no longer a
question of the Union as it was, that was to be re-established, but the
Union as it should be. That is to say, washed clean from its original sin.
We were no longer merely the soldiers of a political controversy, we were
now missionaries on a great work of redemeption, the armed liberators of
millions. The war was ennobled. The object was higher."
- General Regis de Trobiand, after the Emancipation Proclamation
"The triumph of the
Confederacy... would be a victory for the powers of evil which would give
courage to the enemies of progress and damp the sprits of its friends all
over the civilized world... [The American Civil War] is destined to be
a turning point, for good or evil, of the course of human affairs."
- John Stuart Mill
Somehow The Confederacy stayed alive by the daring, the luck and the genius of its high command. (1863)
It would be the most
crucial day of the entire war.
- Narration before Gettysburg (by historian David McCullough)
"Not once in a century
are men permitted to bear such responsibilites for freedom and justice,
for God and humanity, as are now places upon us."
- Colonel Joshua Chamerlain, commanding key Union position at Gettysburg
"An awful universe
- Frank Haskell, Confederate soldier at Gettysburg
"We are utterly cut
off from the world, surrounded by a circle of fire."
- Dora Miller, trapped in the Confederate city of Vicksburg
"This year's brought
about many changes that at the beginning would've been thought impossible."
- Christian Fleetwood, at the end of 1863
"It must now atone
in blood for its complicity in wickedness."
- Abraham Lincoln, on the consequences of slavery for America
In 1864 for the first time in history a nation would hold elections in the middle of a civil war.
"I would charge hell
itself for that old man."
- Confederate soldier under Lee's command at Wilderness
"Quit thinking about
what Bobby Lee's gonna do to us and start thinking about what we're going
to do to him."
- Ulysses S. Grant, after Lee's first attack at Wilderness
"War is the remedy
our enemies have chosen and I say let us give them all they want."
- William Tecumseh Sherman
He was convinced if
he killed them all there'd be news from hell before breakfast.
- Sherman's opinion of reporters
"Sherman will never
go to hell, he'll flank the devil."
- Confederate soldier
"We should never have
wars like this again."
- Union soldier at the Siege of Petersburg (1864)
The 1864 election became a referendum on the war itself.
"Damn the torpedoes!
Full speed ahead!"
- Admiral David Farragut, commanding Union fleet at Mobile Bay (1864)
In one year 13,000
men died at Andersonsville and were buried in mass grave... it held 33,000
men, making it the fifth-largest city in the Confederacy.
- narration on the appaling conditions at the Confederate Prison
Now the men Grant was sending to fight Robert E. Lee were being buried in Lee's own frontyard, and that yard became Arlington National Cemetery - the Union's most hallowed ground.
"As a Southerner I
would have to say that one of the main importances of the War is that Southerners
have a sense of defeat which none of the rest of the country has."
- Shelby Foote
"We can make war so
terrible and make them so sick of war that generations pass away before
they again appeal to it."
- William Tecumseh Sherman
By 1865 everything had changed.
"Deep sadness, overmastered
by deeper strength."
- Union solder describing Lee at Appomattox Court House
"I felt like anything
rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and
valiantly, and who 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."
- General Ulysses S. Grant, recalling the surrender at Appomattox Court House
Before the war it was
always the United States *are*, after the war it was the United States
*is*... it made us an is.
- Shelby Foote
"A radiant fellowship
of the fallen."
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, at the Gettysburg 50th anniversary reunion
"The emancipated blacks
have nothing, because nothing but freedom has been given them."
- contemporary view at the end of the war
# THE CIVIL WAR: Companion Book to PBS Series
"I feel that I would
like to shoot a Yankee, and yet I know that this would not be in harmony
with the spirit of Christianity."
- William L Nugent, Mississippi
"If a fellow wants
to go with a girl now he had better enlist. The girls sing 'I am Bound
to be a Soldier's Wife or Die an Old Maid'."
- Private Theodore Upson, 100th Indiana
The American warship,
San Jacinto, patrolling off Cuba, stopped a British steamer, the Trent,
and arrested two Confederate envoys on their way to England... Jefferson
Davis declared the seizure as beneath the dignity even of 'barbarians'.
Britain was no less outraged. "You may stand for this," the Prime Minister,
Lord Palmerston, told his cabinet, "but damned if I will." He demanded
the immediate release of the two Confederates, and backed his threat by
dispatching eleven thousand British troops to Canada, ready for action.
Lincoln's cabinet opposed surrendering the Confederate agents. Seward, Lincoln remembered, arrived at one meeting "loaded to the muzzle" with reasons to defy Britain. Nonetheless, on Christmas Day, the President decided to free his captives: they had become 'white elephants', he said; besides, one war at a time was enough.
By 1861's end, Lincoln
knew the secession crisis was real enough, and was frankly fearful that
Britian would recognize the legitimacy of the rebellion before he could
persuade his own general-in-chief to take the offensive against it.
"Little did I conceive," William Howard Russell wrote of Bull Run and its impact toward the end of the year, "of the greatness of the defeat, the magnitude of the disaster which it had entailed upon the United States... So short lived has been the American Union that men who saw its rise may live to see its fall."
One hundred thousand men fought at Shiloh. Nearly one in four was a casualty. Three thousand, four hundred and seventy-seven men died, more than all the Americans who died in all the battles of the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the war with Mexico, combined.
The average age of a soldier in either army was 25. The minimum age for enlistment was 18, but recruiting officers were not particular. Drummer boys as young as nine signed on. Charles E King, musician in 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers, was 12 when he enlisted, and thought to be the youngest combat soldier in the solder. He would be killed at Antietam. Two of out three Confederate soldiers were farmers or farmers' sons. So were half the Union men, and a quarter of them were foreign-born. The average soldier was 5 feet, 8.25 inches tall and weighed 143.5 pounds. A third of southern soldiers could neither read nor write. The chance of dying in combat was one in 65. One in 10 would be wounded. One in 13 would die of disease.
"People here are quite
struck aback at Sunday's news of the capture of New Orleans. It took them
three days to make up their minds to believe it. The division of American
had become an idea so fixed that they had about shut out all the avenues
to the reception of any other."
- Henry Adams, writing from London
"I was always a friend
of southern rights, but an enemy of southern wrongs."
- Benjamin Butler, Union military governor New Orleans
A statue of Andrew Jackson had already been standing in Jackson Square at New Orleans, the city Old Hickory had saved from the British in 1815, when Benjamin Butler became military governorm but he felt compelled to order carved into its pedestal a fresh Jacksonian slogan, calculated to enrage the citizenry: "The Union must and shall be preserved."
McClellan was at last getting ready to mount his barrage of Richmond when Lee hit him first, at Mechanicsville on the Union right, on June 26. The attack cost Lee 1500 men, but he would not let up. He continued to move forward, determined to drive McClellan off the Peninsula, and McClellan fell back steadily before him. The fighting went on for a full week — at Gaines' Mill, Savage's Station, Frayser's Farm and at Malvern Hill, where on July 1 Federal artillery and rifle fire blew to pieces the Confederates who came at them up the long slope... At least 15,000 bleeding men were carried into Richmond that week... All but one of the battles of the Seven Days had been Union victories, yet McClellan treated them as defeats, continuing to back down the Peninsula until by July 3 he had reached the safety of Federal gunboats at Harrison's landing on the James. Union officers urged him to counterattack: Lee had lost 20,000 men. McClellan refused... In just one week, Lee had unnerved McClellan, forced his huge army down the Peninsula, and demonstrated for the first time the strengths that would make him a legend: surprise, audacity, and an eerie ability to read his opponents' mind.
"It was thought to be a great thing to charge a battery of artillery or an earthworks lined with infantry..." a Confederate general remembered of the Seven Days' battles. "We were very lavish of blood in those days."
"We are Americans,
speaking the same language, adopting the same customs, holding the same
general opinions... and shall rise and fall with Americans."
- Frederick Douglass, leader of the Black community
"This war, disguise
it as they may, is virtually nothing more or less than perpetual slavery
against universal freedoms."
- Frederick Douglass
"Will the slave fight?
If any man asks you, tell him No. But if anyone asks you will a Negro fight,
tell him Yes!"
- Wendell Phillips
Many considerations kept Europe out of the conflict in Americs — not least among them the fact that the Union had the largest army in the world in 1862. The second largest was the Confederate. But the Emancipation Proclamation had just the effect Lincoln had hoped for abroad. Neither England nor France was willing to oppose a United States pledged to end slavery.
Among the Union attackers at Fredericksburg was the Irish Brigade, shouting "Erin go bragh!" (Ireland forever) and waving their green banners. They got within 25 paces of the stone wall. The men of the 24th Georgia who shot them down were Irish, too. Longstreet compared the Union men falling before his guns to "the steady dripping of rain from the caves of a house." A Union officer watched from a church steeple as brigade after brigade charged the stone wall. They seemed to "melt", he said, "like snow coming down on warm ground."
New Year's Day, 1863,
found the Army of the Potomac miserably encamped at Falmouth, Virginia,
on the northern bank of the froze Rappahannock. The men had not been paid
for six months, and while army warehouses at Washington were filled with
food, little of it got to the winter camp... One Wisconsin officer called
the winter of 183 "the Valley Forge of the war." The camps were filthy...
Hundreds died from scurvy, dysentry, typhoid, diptheria, pneumonia. Disease
was the chief killer of the war. Two soldiers died of it for every one
killed in battle. Farm boys, crowded together with other men for the first
time in their lives, were especially susceptible to every sort of ailment;
there were epidemics of measles, mumps, and other childhood diseases...
Medical care was primitive, at best, in both armies.
"One of the wonders of these times was the army cough..." a Union soldier recalled. "It would break out... when the men awoke, and it is almost a literal fact that when one hundred thousand men began to stir at reveille, the sound of their coughing would drown that of the beating drums."
"Must I shoot a simple-minded
soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of the wily agitator
who induces him to desert? I think that in such a cse to silence the agitator
and save the boy is not only constitutional but withal a great mercy."
- Abraham Lincoln, defending his detention of antiwar politician Clement Vallandigham
"The authors of all
- Jefferson Davis's description of Unionists during Richmond's Bread Riots
Union shells took a
fierce toll of the Confederate infantry, waiting in the woods for the signal
to move forward. Two hundred and fifty guns were now firing at once. "We
sat and heard in silence," a Union officer remembered. "What other expression
had we that was not mean for such an awful universe of battle?"
After about an hour, the Federal guns fell silent, to conserve ammunition for the attack Meade was sure was coming — and to lure the enemy out onto the open fields between the lines. It worked. The Confederates believed they had destroyed the Union batteries. Should his men now go forward? Pickett asked. Longstreet, unable to bring himself to speak, nodded... At a little over three, Pickett gave the order: "Up men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from old Virginia."
Three divisions — 13,000 men — started out of the woods toward the stone wall at a brisk, steady pace, covering about 100 yards a minute. They were silent as they marched, forbidden this time to fire or to give the rebel yell until they were on top of the enemy... "It was," a northern officer remembered, "the most beautiful thing I ever saw." Union guns on Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top opened fire on the right of the advancing Confederate line... As many as ten men at a time were destroyed by a single bursting shell.
- Describing the attack on the Union centre at Gettysburg
"It is now conceded
that all idea of British intervention is at an end... I want to hug the
army of the Potomac. I want to get the whole army of Vicksburg drunk at
my own expense. I want to fight some small man and lick him."
- Henry Adams, cheering the twin Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in London
In the autumn, Grant crowned his Vicksburg victory with another great triumph — Chattanooga. Standing above a bend of the Tennessee River at the meeting point of two important railroads, Chattanooga guarded the gateway to the eastern Confederacy and the rebel war industries in Georgia. From it, the Confederate army could mount expeditions into Tennessee and Kentucky. If the Union could seize it, they could move south into Georgia and further divide the Confederacy.
Grant did not look heroic. He disliked uniforms, didn't much like marching bands, and said he could recognize only two tunes. "One was Yankee Doodle," he said; "the other wasn't." And he had his quirks: he insisted that his meat be cooked dry because even the suggestion of blood on his plate made him sick, and once, on the eve of a battle in which thousands of men were to die, he had a teamster tied to a tree for six hours for daring to mistreat a horse.
"I have founght against
the people of North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from
the South its dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter
or vindictive feelings, and I have never seen the day I did not pray for
- Robert E Lee.
Lee always referred to the Union army as 'those people' rather than the enemy. "His house on the Pamucky river was burnt to the ground and the slaves carried away..." a friend notedm "while his residence on the Arlington Heights was not only gutted of its furniture, but even the very relics of George Washington were stolen from it... Notwithstanding all these personal losses... when speaking of the Yankees, he... envinced [no] bitterness of feeling... but alluded to many of his former friends and companions amongst them in the kindest terms."
"I think that Lee should
have been hanged. It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine
character and acted conscientiously. It's always the good men who do the
most harm in the world."
- Henry Adams
The plan Grant outlined to Meade and the general staff called for four co-ordinated, simultaneous blows against the Confederacy. Benjamin Butler was to lead an army up from the James River. Franz Sigel would advance up the Shenandoah Valley. William T Sherman had orders to strike out from Chattanooga for Atlanta. Finally, Meade was to the lead the Army of the Potomac, 110,000 strong, south against Lee. "Wherever Lee goes, you will go also," Grant told Meade, and Grant himself would go there too. Lee's strategy was also straightforward: destroy the Union resolve to wage war. To offset Grant's superior numbers, he would force him to attack fortified positions and make the cost of trying to force the South back into the Union at gunpoint so high that the northern public would finally refuse to pay it and sue for peace. There was a presidential election in November and it was Lee's hope that by holding Grant to a bloody draw he could bring about the defeat of Abraham Lincoln.
Lee's 60,000 Confederates were waiting in the tangled thicket known as the Wilderness, in which they had trapped the same army under the unsteady Hooker a year earlier. They knew things would be different this time. "That man [Grant]," James Longstreet said, "will fight us every day and every hour till the end of the war."
Beginning on the old Chancellorsville battlefield on May 5, 1864, and continuing without a break for the six bloodiest weeks of the war, Grant tried again and again to get around the right flank of Lee's army, destroy it, then move to Richmond and end the war. And again and again, Lee saw what he was trying to do and managed to thwart him. The struggle continued along a hundred-mile crescent before the two exhausted armies settled in for a siege at Petersburg, southeast of the Confederate capital.
The fighting since the Wilderness had been a bad time for generals too. Union General James Wadsworth was killed instantly by a bullet in the brain. John Sedgwick, who had survived Antietam and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, reassured his men that the Confederate snipers "couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," then fell dead with a bullet below the left eye; Grant said that Sedgwick had been worth a division to the Union. James Longstreet was shot through the throat and shoulder by his own pickets not far from where Stonewall Jackson had been hit by his pickets, just one year and one day earlier, but lived to fight again.
Jubal Early burned the Maryland home of the Union Postmaster General, Montgomery Blair, in retaliation for a Union general's having razed the Virginia Military Institute. To avenge *that* fire, Ben Butler sent troops to Fredericksburg to burn down the country home of James Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War. Blair asked that the cycle of vengeance be stopped: "I have a great horror of lawlessness, and it does not improve my repugnance to it that it is practiced upon the lawless."
"I always shoot at
privates. It was they who did the shooting and killing, and if I could
kill a wound a private, why, my chances were so much the better. I always
looked upon officers as harmless personages."
- Sam Watkins
Lincoln's chances for re-election had never seemed good. No other nation had ever held an election in the midst of a civil war. No incumbent had been renominayed for President since 1840. No President since Andrew Jackson had won a second term.
"I am going to be beaten," Lincoln said in August, "and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten." His frail hopes for victory now lay with Sherman, the only one of Grant's commanders still moving forward against the enemy... Grant had entrusted Sherman with the second most important part of his grand strategy — to seize Atlanta, the "Gate City of the South" and the second most important manufacturing center of the Confederacy, and to smash the combined Confederate armies of the Tennessee and Mississippi under Joseph E Johnston that would try to stop him.
To cut off Atlanta's
rail links with Richmond, Sherman dispatched General James B McPherson
and his Army of the Tennessee to Decatur, 10 miles to the east. Just thirty-five,
McPherson was a special favorite of Sherman's — handsome, warmhearted,
intelligent: "If he lives," Sherman predicted, "he'll outdistance Grant
...Hood rushed to counter the new Union threat, and on July 22 what came to be called the Battle of Atlanta began. It raged all afternoon, the lines forming, falling back, re-forming, attacking again. At 2:00, McPherson himself went to inspect the imperiled Union position — and rode right into a band of rebel skirmishers. Ordered to surrender, McPherson raised his hat, turned his horse about, and raced for the Union lines. The rebels shot him in the back.
...Sherman replaced McPherson with General John "Black Jack" Logan, who reformed his men and ordered a massive counterassault, riding up and down the lines crying, "McPherson and revenge, boys, McPherson and revenge." Hood was driven from the field in less than 30 minutes. At Ezra Church. west of the city, Hood tried and failed again to drive off Sherman's army. In little more than a week, a third of his force — 20,000 men — were gone, and he fell back into Atlanta.
...The siege went on for a month. Finally, on August 31, Sherman hurled most of his army against the Macon & Western Railroad south of the city, in one more attempt to break Hood's grip. It worked, and on September 1, the Confederates evacuated Atlanta.
More bad news was coming for the Confederacy. Phil Sheridan and 45,000 men stormed into the Shenandoah Valley with orders from Grant to follow Jubal Early "to the death" and to strip the valley so thoroughly that "crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender." Grant had picked the right man for the job. No Union officer was fonder of fighting than Sheridan; none save Sherman was so relentless.
With Atlanta now in
his grasp, Sherman proposed to lead his army through the heart of Georgia
all the way to the coastal city of Savannah. He would be unable to communicate
with Washington while marching, and would be cut off from his base of supply.
His army would live off the land, destroying everything in its path that
could conceivably aid the faltering Confederacy — and a good deal that
Lincoln's advisors thought Sherman's plan foolhardy; the President approved it, although he worried too. "I know the hole he went in at," he told a caller, "but I can't tell you what hole he'll come out of." Military experts outside government too, thought the risk great. "The name of the captor of Atlanta, if he fails now, will become the scoff of mankind," wrote the London Herald, "and the humiliation of the United States for all time. If he succeeds it will be written on the tablet of fame."
On November 16, 1864, Sherman set out acorss Georgia at the head of two vast columns. Cut off from supplies or contact with the North, his men devoured or destroyed most of what stood in their way, and four days before Christmas, took Savannah, three hundred miles away.
On December 22, 1864,
Sherman sent Lincoln a telegram: "I beg to present to you, as Christmas
gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition;
also, about 25,000 bales of cotton."
Lincoln was delighted: "Grant has the bear by the kind leg," he said, "While Sherman takes off the hide."
"Darkest of all Decembers
ever has my life known,
Sitting here by the embers, stunned, helpless, alone."
- Mary Chestnut, after the fall of Atlanta
"Though I never ordered
it, and never wished for it, I have never shed any tears over the event,
because I believe that it hastened what we all fought for, the end of the
- William T Sherman, after fire devastates Columbia
"Richmond has fallen
— and I have no heart to write about it... They are too many for us. Everythign
lost in Richmond, even our archives. Blue-black is our horizon."
- Mary Chestnut
Forced from his trenches at Petersburg on April 2, 1865, the Confederate commander led the remnant of his army westward in a desperate quest for food. Grant's huge force followed eagerly along behind.
An officer urged Lee to surrender. The general asked angrily what the country would think of him if he failed to fight on. "Country be damned!" said the officer. "There is no country. There has been no country, for a year or more. You're the country to these men."
...Sheridan flanked Lee's army and captured two precious trainloads of supplied at Appomattox Station. There was no more hope of food for the Confederates... They were almost entirely surrounded, outnumbered nearly 4 to 1, without food or hope of resupply or reinforcements.
Lee knew it was over. The North had nearly a million men under arms; the South fewer than 100,000.
"If one army drank
the joy of victory, and the other the bitter draught of defeat, it was
a joy moderated by the recollection of the cost at which it had been purchased,
and a defeat mollified by the consciousness of many triumphs. If the victors
could recall a Malvern Hill, an Antietam, a Gettysburg, a Five Forks, the
vanquished could recall a Manassas, a Fredericksburg, a Chancellorsville,
a Cold Harbor."
- William Swinton, "The New York Times"
"We are scattered,
stunned; the remnant of heart left alive is filled with brotherly hate...
Whose fault? Everybody blamed somebody else. Only the dead heroes left
stiff and stark on the battlefield escape."
- Mary Chestnut
In Washington, fireworks filled the sky, government buildings were illuminated, a great crowd gathered around the White House and called for Lincoln. He was too weary to make a formal speech. "I have always thought 'Dixie' one of the best tunes I ever heard," he told the crowd, "Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted... that we fairly captured it... I now request the band to favor me with its performance."
"My shoes are gone;
my clothes are almost gone. I'm weary, I'm sick, I'm hungry. My family
have all been killed or scattered... And I have suffered all this for my
country. I love my country. But if this war is ever over I'll bedamned
if I ever love another country."
- Unknown Confederate soldier to General Longstreet during the retreat to Appamattox
"On they come with
the old swinging route step and swaying battle flags. Before us in proud
humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood. Thin, worn and famished, but
erect and with eyes looking level into ours. Waking memories that bound
us together as no other bond. Was not such manhood to be welcomed back
into the Union so tested and assured. On our part not a sound of trumpet
more nor roll of drum, not a cheer, nor word, nor whisper of vain glorying,
nor motion of man. But an awed stillness rather and breathholding, as if
it were the passing of the dead."
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, describing the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia
Nathan Bedford Forrest was in the backwoods of Alabama when peace finally came. Other officers had already surrendered to the Yankees, but he toyed for a time with the notion of riding all the way to Mexico rather than giving up. "Which way, General?" an adjutant asked him. "Either," he said. "If one road led to hell and the other to Mexico, I would be indifferent which to take." But after further thought he decided he could server his region best by leading his former soldiers back into the restored Union: "I have never on the field of battle sent you where I was unwilling to go myself," he told them, "nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers. You can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the government to which you have surrendered can afford to be and will be magnanimous."
"Strange, (is it not?)
that battles, martyrs, blood, even assassination should so condense — perhaps
only really lastingly condense — a Nationality."
- Walt Whitman
"We have lived a century
of common life since then."
- George Templeton Strong, looking back to the beginning of the war
"One does every day
and without a second thought, what at another time would be the event of
a year, perhaps of a life."
- Henry Adams, on the intensity of wartime experience
"The pageant has passed.
That day is over. But we linger, loath to think we shall see them no more
together — these men, these horses, these colors afield."
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
"Who knows but the
old flags, ragged and torn, snapping in the wind may face each other and
flutter, pursuing and pursued, while cries of victory fill a summer day. And after the battle, then the slain and wounded will rise, and all will meet under the two flags, all sound and well, and there will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say, did it not seem real? Was it not as in the old days?"
- Berry Benson
"Were these things
real? Did I see those brave and noble countrymen of mine laid low in death
and weltering in their blood? Did I see out country laid waste and in ruins?
Did I see soldier marching, the earth trembling and jarring beneath there
measured tread? Did I see the ruins of smoldering homes cities and deserted
homes? Did I see the flag of my country, that I had followed so long, furled
to be no more unfurled forever? Surely they are but the vagaries of mine
own imagination... But hush! I now hear the approach of battle. That low,
rumbling sound in the West is the roar of cannon in the distance."
- Sam Watkins
"America has no north,
no south, no east, no west. The sun rises over the hills and sets over
the mountains, the compass just points up and down, and we can laugh now
at the absurd notion of there being a north and a south. We are one and
- Sam Watkins
After it was all over
and the fury and fever had died away, survivors of the Civil War were still
haunted by the horror and madness of what had happened in the last few
years. From John Brown at the beginning to John Wilkes Booth at the end
of the killing, madness seemed to have taken over... More terrible than
the number of casualties was how they were inflicted — not by foreign enemies,
but by fellow citizens. Despite the South's desire to call it a War Between
the States, it was a civil war. Thousands of southerners fought for the
Union, and thousands of northerners fought for the Confederacy — father
against son, brother against brother, for the war divided families as well
as states. To justify the mad things they were doing, both sides learned
to live with paradox. Both armies sang a war song called 'Battle Cry of
Freedom' to the same music, but with different words. Southerners equated
bondage for slaves with freedom for themselves and rebellion from the nation
with loyalty to the Constitution. Northernersbegan the war as part of the
world's largest slave-owning republic, pledged to protect the rights of
slaveholders, but then in the midst of war reversed themselves with the
pledge to abolish slavery. Both sides waged relentless war as the only
means of achieving peace.
- C. Vann Woodwar,d, "What The War Made Us"
[Why the War Came — Essay by Don E. Fehrenbacher]
Nothing in the history
of the Civil War is more remarkable than the speed with which secession
proceeded and the Confederacy took shape, once the outcome of the presidential
contest was known. The rush to action reflected an intensity of feeling
also expressed in much southern rhetoric. Political leaders, editors and
other spokesmen denounced the election of Lincoln was an outrage amounting
virtually to a declaration of war on the slaveholding states... Why did
the lawful election of a new President provoke such fury and lead to promptly
to dissolution of the Union? First of all, no one at the time seems to
have doubted that the secession crisis was a crisis over slavery.
...The dynamic force at work in the crisis was the southern perception of the Republican party, not merely as a political opposition, but as a hostile, revolutionary organization bent on total destruction of the slaveholding system... Actually, Republican leaders were something considerably less than revolutionaries. Indeed, Republican antislavery doctrine amounted to a moral compromise with slavery that abolitionists were disposed to treat with scorn? Why then, did so many southerners take an apocalyptic view of Lincoln's election? And on the other hand, why did so many northerners vote for Lincoln, knowing that his election would be disturbing to the peace of the land? These are simple questions that soon lead one deep into historical complexities.
Southerners in the early national period, if they defended slavery at all, had usually done so in qualified and contingent terms, portraying it as a regrettable legacy that was ineradicable in their own time, but not for all time. The Federal Constitution, while acknowledging the presence of slavery in the nation, seemed to treat it implicitly as an impermanent feature of American society... By the middle decades of the 19th century, however, accumulating changes of great magnitude were dissolving such optimism and placing the American union chronically at risk. The rise of the cotton kingdom had enhanced the value of slave labor and its importance in the national economy. Despite some northern efforts to restrict it, the slaveholding system had expanded westward as far as Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. The nation's slave population tripled between 1800 and 1840. Yet, although slavery flourished, the slaveholding class suffered from a growing sense of insecurity as it came under fierce attack from a new breed of abolitionists and as the South settled ever deeper into the status of a minority section.
During the final stages of the sectional controversy, many southern leaders compromised their own states' rights principles by demanding a Federal policy unreservedly protective of slavery... One consequence of these proslavery excesses was the enlistment in the antislavery movement of a good many northerners who felt little sympathy for the slace but had developed a strong aversion to the 'slave power'.
The emergence of Republicanim as a major political force was in fact a very complex event that cannot be attributed solely to antislavery zeal or to any other single cause. Nevertheless, what proved to be crucial in 1860 was not the true nature of the Republican party, whatever that may have been, but rather southern perception of the party as a thinly disguised agency of abolitionist fanaticism.
To understand fully the reaction of the South to Lincoln's election, one must take into account not only the antislavery complexion of Republicanism but also the proslavery character of the Federal government before 1861. For nearly three-quarters of a century, southern slaveholders, along with northerners deferential to the slaveholding interest, had predominated in the presidency, executive departments, the foreign service, the Supreme Court, the higher military echelons, and the Federal bureaucracy. Cabinet posts and other important positions were frequently entrusted to proslavery militants like John C Calhoun, but no antislavery leader was appointed to high Federal office before Lincoln became President. The nation's foreign policy was conducted habitually and often emphatically in a manner protective of slavery... Is it any wonder that most southerners viewed the election of Lincoln as a revolutionary break with the past?
The hour had come, said the fire-eaters, for secession to be undertaken in single file. One bold state must lead the way, drawing the rest of the South after it, state by state. As the movement proceeded, it would presumably gather momentum and eventually force even the border slave states to leave the Union. When a South Carolina convention unanimously approved an ordinance of sescession on December 20, 1960, it did to with full assurance that other states would follow.
The crucial determination
to dissolve the Union in response to the election of Lincoln was made by
just seven state governments — South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama,
Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — representing less than one-third of the
free population of the entire South. Those same seven states of the lower
South created the Confederacy, framed its constitution and elected its
President. Furthermore, it was men from the lower South who eventually
made the fateful decision to open fire on Fort Sumter. Virginians, by way
of contrast, lived for four years under a government that they had no part
in establishing and fought for four years in a way they had no part in
Driven by fear, anger and pride into pre-emptive action against what appeared to be an intolerable future, the secessionist majorities in the lower South seized the initiative after Lincoln's election and forced a battery of hard choices on the rest of the country. The decisiveness of these men enabled them to shape the course of events to their liking for a time, although it served them badly at Fort Sumter. Their decisive behaviour is the heart of the matter in any explanation of the outbreak of the Civil War, just as slavery is the heart of the matter in any explanation of that behaviour.
[Who Freed the Slaves? — Essay by Barbara J. Fields]
Although Lincoln privately believed that slavery was wrong and wished it might be abolished, his public policy faithfully reflected the standpoint of those for whom the war was an issue between free, white citizens: between unionists and secessionists, between rights judged by free-soil northerners, and rights claimed by slaveholding southerners... As respectable citizenss of sound and practical sense, all concurred that the aggrieved parties in the struggle of North and South were white citizens, and that the issue should be decided on the basis of what would best promote such citizens' desires and interests. But wars, especially civil wars, have a way of making respectability scandalous and scandalousness respectable, and that is just what the American Civil War did. Abruptly, people whose point of view had never been respectable became the voice not just of morality but of practical common sense as well: abolitionists, black and white, calling not just for the containment of slavery but for its eradication; free black people demanding the right to take an active part in the war; and especially the slaves themselves, insisting on the self-evident truth that their liberty, like everyone else's, was an inalienable gift of God.
Once the Federal Union
was breached, with its delicately wrought and euphemistically pharsed constitutional
protections for slaveholders, slavery could never again be safe. The wisest
minds on both sides of the battle lines understood that perfectly. Wendell
Phillips, the great abolitionist, reminded secessionists that "the moment
you tread outside of the Constitution, the black man is not three-fiths
of a man — he is whole one." ...Conservative slaveholders had foreseen
the danger and warned their fellow slaveholders had foreseen the danger
and warned their fellow slaveholders that secession would unleash a revolution
that must end with the destruction of slavery... Shortsighted rebels expected
to preserve slavery while fighting for independence. Equally shortsighted
unionists believed they could forever compromise the issues of slaves'
freedom to suit the convenice of white citizens. Lincoln carefully tailored
his policies and his public pronouncements to protect such unionists from
...The slaves harbored no illusion that a war to defeat secession could be anything but a war to end slavery. They knew ahead of Lincoln himself that he would have to take on the role of emancipator, and they acted on that knowledge before there was anything but blind faith to sustain it.
# LETHAL GLORY: Dramatic Defeats of the American Civil War
The American Civil
War commander, no matter on which side or in which theatre, had one aim
always in mind - the total destruction of the enemy in battle, reducing
his forces to a panc-stricken mob that fled or surrendered. It was rare
however for an army to be totally defeated in the battle. Even at Chancellorsville,
where the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee, thoroughly
trounced its opponent, the Army of the Potomac under Major General Joseph
Hooker, the losing army wasn't crushed. True, it suffered casualties in
large numbers and its morale drooped visibly. Its general was thoroughly
discredited both in the public and the military eye, but within two months,
at Gettysburg, the defeated army was able to turn the tables and hand Lee's
victorious troops the worst beating they had ever taken.
If there was a single reason for this, it was that the only way that an army could be destroyed or dispersed was by attacking it again and again until its lines no longer existed and further resistance was futile. So the emphasis in all battles of the period was on the attack.
But between forces of anything like the same size, the attack was generally doomed. The 0.58 calibre Springfield/Richmond or 0.577 calibre Enfield rifles musket, the standard infantry longarm, had made the attack almost impossible to succeed unless the odds were overwhelmingly in the attackers' favour. An infantryman so armed could fire a heavy bullet accurately to some 900 yards. At that distance, the bullet could penetrate six inches of soft pine.
It would be a sloppy, ill-trained infantryman indeed who could not fire some five decently aimed shots every minute using a caplock rifled musket. As the charging infantryman on level, unbroken ground could cover only 109 yeards a minute at a dead run, a defender could get off give rounds while his attacker was coming on. If only half of them actually hit an attacker, that would still be more than enough to stop an attack by at least 100% more attackers than defenders. Since most charges started at a distance of some 200 yards, the distance most close actions began, the average defender could fire at least 8 shots before attacker and defender crossed bayonets. At that rate, the defence had a very large advantage.
Cannoeers were able to get off 11 rounds of canister at infantry attacking them from some 350 yards before they could close. Most defenders had artillery, so their advantage was almost impossible to overcome and attacks were usually dead before they started. Even the best of generals such as Lee continued to employ Napoleonic-style frontal assaults that usually failed totally. Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg in July 1863 and Fredericksburg in December 1862 were attacks of this type.
Often the outcome of a battle such as Fredericksburg was obvious to the rank and file, if not to their generals, before it had begun. The men at the front end knew whether they had a chance of taking a position or not. The fact remains, however, that sthey still made desperate but pointless charges such as at Fredericksburg although knowing that wounds, death and defeat would be the result.
The Victorian code of ethics called for stoic behaviour in the face of the enemy... but after some years of fighting these sentiments were largely abandoned... Civilians, however, maintained their heroic view of warfare to they very end, and treated with contempt returning soldiers who had not bhaved in a manner they considered to be 'heroic'. Many Confederate veterans after the final defeat found more understanding from Union veterans than among fellow southerners who had never seen battle. Since the soldiers hoped to return and live back among these people, they were sometimes driven to attempt more than was reasonable.
But some attacks did succeed. The commander of the losing side usually made some serious mistakes... attacks that were unexpected often succeeded. Commanders and garrison troops who had been in one place for a considerable time often became complacent.
Generally, the losers became prisoners of war. In some instances, where keeping prisoners was impracticable for one reason or another, the captives were paroled, the prisoner swearing an oath not to take up arms ahain until notified that he had been properly exchanged. In theory paroled prisoners were to report to a camp on their own side where they could be kept in military discipline while awaiting exchange. This was usually the case with paroled Union soldiers, but many paroled Confederates simply went home, often to fight no more.
Most civil wars are marked by brutality, but this was not usually the case in the American Civil War. Only in a handful of instances did the winning side get out of hand and kill men who had already surrendered or who could no longer fight. This happened at Ball's Bluff because both sides were so raw in the ways of warfare that the Union troops didn't think of surrendering when their cause was lost.
Killings after surrender took place among neighbours who had taken opposite sides, especially in the western theatre where frontier rules still predominated.
And the victors? How did their victory end? They often walked about the battlefield like modern souvenir hunters, sometimes rummanging through the pockets and the haversacks of the dead and wounded for items of value or food and water. Often they searched for the bodies of friends or relatives. For most the mental strain of battle was very exhausting and many promptly fell asleep. Others found themselves astonishingly hungry and had to find something to eat. Some prayed, other wrote home.
Usually even victorious units became badly disorganised in the course of the action. Commanders had to spend much time calling rolls and getting their units organised before they could even think of following up to pursue a retreating enemy or moving on to another enemy post for yet another attack.
In most cases, therefore, the victory was the end in itself. There was no follow-up. As a result, many Civil War battles counted for little. Lee could win Chancellorsville magnificiently, but the Union army could return to win Gettysburg and then go on to win the war. While commanders looked to each defeat as perhaps bringing a dramatic end to the war, none of them was ever that.
[from "The Surrender
of Fort Sumter"]
Threats to the security of the United States during the first 75 years of its existence were largely external. British troops in two separate wars were able to land troops on American coasts and capture the country's cities with relative ease. Only strong, permanent fortifications outside Baltimore prevented that city's capture, while New Orleans was saved by temporary fortifications outside the city. Seeing this, the young American government spent much of its small military budget on setting up a school, the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, to train military engineers to build the type of masonry fortifications outside port cities which were so favoured in military thinking. The US Army embarked on a massive fortification building project around the major American ports which continued throughout the 19th century. Charleston, South Carolina, was blessed with a lovely harbour whose entrance could be fortified easily. The US Army had spent a great deal on its defence and by 1860 there were four forts, but none of them was in very good shape.
Everything began to wrong for the secessionists when the southern-leaning members of President Buchanan's cabinet left, to be replaced by hard-line northerners like Attorney General Edwin M. Stanton, who would later be Secretary of War in Lincoln's cabinet. Stanton and the new Secretary of War, Kentuckian Joseph Holt, stiffened Buchanan's resolve. They drafted a message for him to give to South Carolina's commissioners, flatly rejecting anyy chance of pulling out of Sumter. Moreover, they talked Buchanan into reinforcing its meagre garrison.
At the end, the southern decision to fire on Fort Sumter sealed the fate of the new Confederate States. Some southerners recognized that the bombardment of the fort had caused them all great problems. North Carolina Senator Thomas L. Clingman told Mary Chestnut that South Carolina was a "... poor little hot-blooded, headlong, rash and troublesome sister state", adding that he believed that the Fort's forcible surrender would ensure Virginia and North Carolina entering the war on the southern side, but, in the end, the north would "swoop down on" the seceding states. He was one of few southerners with such clear vision.
[The Fall of Fort Henry
and Fort Donelson]
"It was now plain to be seen that the enemy was breaching the fort directly in front of our guns, and that I could not much longer sustain their fire without an unjustifiable exposure of the valuable lives of the men who had so nobly seconded me in this unequal struggle."
- Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, Confederate commander of both forts
In the close-quarter fighting many Confederates thought that they had the advantage with smoothbored muskets against the enemy's with rifles muskets. The combination of one 0.69 calibre ball and three buckshot was more destructive at close range than the more accurate, longer-ranged 0.58 calibre rifled musket. At the same time, the wet weather made many of the Tennesseans' flintlock muskets worthless. Where possible, those Confederates abandoned their old flintlocks when they could find abandoned Union rifled muskets.
[The New Mexico Campaign]
"There's gold in those hills," people had said of California since that precious metal was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1848. And gold is what the Confederacy needed to buy the military and civilian supplies it could not manufacture within its borders. So when the Civil War began a professional soldier, Henry H. Sibley, came up with a plan to capture those goldfields and the silver deposits in Colorado, and thereby extend the young Confederacy from the Atlantic to the Pacific. According to Sibleys' plan a single brigade, organized in Texas, would move north-west, capturing Union Army suuplies from the western forts which would fall like dominoes. The Union forces in his way, weakened by the resignation of so many southern officers, would offer, he believed, little or no resistance.
[The Assault on Fredericksburg]
On two occasions Major General George B. McClellan had the Union's Army of the Potomac in a position to end the war. The first time, in early 1862, he had brought the army up the peninsula to just outside Richmond where he was out-generalled and foiled by Robert E. Lee. He had a second chance at Antietam in September when a set of orders showing the disposition of Lee's spread-out army in an invasion of Maryland fell into his hands. Although the two armies fought each other to a stand-still in the bloodiest single day of the war, McClellan did not destroy Lee's army, nor did he make a move to follow up during the subsequent months. Finally, in desperation, Lincoln removed the popular McClellan and replaced him with a corps commander, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside.
After the meeting (to discuss the assault) broke up, Burnside asked a New York Colonel "What do you think of it?". In a spirit more seen in the largely volunteer army of the Civil War than in professional armies of any country or time, the colonel said, "If you make the attack as contemplated it will be the greatest slaughter of the war; there isn't enough infantry in our whole army to carry those heights if they are well defended."
Two years of war in the eastern theatre had, despite a strong of resounding Confederate successes, resulted in pretty much a draw. Early in 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac had thrust through to a position from which the men could see the spires of St Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, only to be stopped in their tracks by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee, the man acknowledged by both sides to have been the supreme military genius of the war. Then Lee himself had gone on the attack, north, up through Maryland, only to be stopped at a town named Sharpsburg in September 1862, on the bloodiest day of the war. Stopped, but not defeated. He and his troops waited for a renewed attack which never came, then pulled out, back to Virginia to lick their wounds.
Then the Army of the Potomac moved back south again, again towards Richmond, this time by the direct route which had brought failure in the spring of 1861. First it attempted to steamroller its way through Lee's men at Fredericksburg on a cold December morning in 1862. Then, that having failed disastrously, a flank march was tried, only to stall in a quagmire of rain and melting snow. In May a new Union commander tried the flank again, only to be bluffed, baffled, and beaten dramatically by Lee and his invaluable lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson.
Yet Lee did not consider the Union defeat at Chancellorsville satisfactory, First, while reconnoitiring between the lines in the dark, Jackson was fired upon by his own men and mortally wounded. Secondly, despite a brilliant strategy, brilliantly executed, which caued entire Union army corps to dissolve and take to their heels, the Army of the Potomac had not been destroyed. It had fallen back sullenly, inflicting great losses on the Confederates, and regrouped to fight again. The longed-for knock-out blow had eluded Lee as it had his opponents.
So, in reality, the
situation in the eastern theatre was stalemate. But in the west, from the
very beginning things started going the Union generals' way and they never
slowed down. New Orleans and Nashville, two of the South's major cities,
had fallen early on. Union forces hugging the river lines pressed ever
deeper into the south. Now, in the spring of 1863, the south had only one
major post on the Mississippi River, the river that divided the far west
from the rest of the Confederacy. Vicksburg, a city high on a bluff overlooking
the river below, was ringed with fortifications against a Union army commanded
by Major General Ulysses S. Grant. He had already beaten off attempts to
relieve the city from the east, and Confederate troops in the area could
only look on hopelessly as Grant tightened the noose around the Vicksburg
garrison. Were Vicksburg to fall, the entire Mississippi River would be
in Union hands. What as the high command to do?
The Battle of Chancellorsville, fought in May, was not only Lee's greatest victory but it was won despite the absence of a large part of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lt General James Longstreet's First Corps, almost a third of Lee's Army, missed the entire second phase of the battle, being in North Carolina. This proved that Lee could defend Richmond even when lacking as much as an entire corps. Therefore, the obvious thinking was to send one of the Army of Northern Virginia's corps west to join the forces sent to relieve Vicksburg and save the city.
Like any general, Lee didn't want to lose a single man from his command, and he made a different suggestion: that he strike north, as he had done the year before, but this time, heading deep into Pennsylvania itself. The raid would have a two-fold purpose. First, the raid would relieve pressure on Vicksburg. The US Government in Washington had always been very sensitive to threats against its capital. Secondly, taking the war into lush Pennsylvania would relieve some of the burden from the farmers in northern Virginia who had had to bear the brunt of supplying food to Lee's Army. In Pennsylvania the army could live off the enemy. Moreover, flying a Confederate battle flag in the north could boost the hopes for European recognition as well as dampen northern morale. A successful raid in 1863 could help turn the 1864 election against President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican Party, and being peace-party Democrats into power. There would be a strong possibility that a peace treaty recognizing the Confederates as an independent nation could be signed with a Democratic government.
"If the enemy is out
there tomorrow, we must attack him."
"If he is there, it will be because he is anxious that we should attack him. A good reason, in my judgment, for not doing so."
- Generals Lee and Longstreet, before the second day at Gettysburg
(At a crucial moment in the battle...) The Union artillery chief decided to break off counter-battery fire to save his ammunition for the forthcoming attack. He ordered many of his guns to withdraw beyond the crest, there to wait and be ready to move forward again when Confederate infantry appeared. Through his glasses, Colonel Alexander saw the movement. Never before, in artillery duels, had Union artillery been known to withdraw to save ammunition, so he thought that the Federal batteries at the front had run out and were about to be replaced. Here, if there were to be any that day, was the window of opportunity to launch the Confederate attack...
That night roll calls showed that the attacking Confederates in Pickett's Division had lost 1125 killed, 4550 ounded and 792 prisoners, a total of 62% of the attacking force.
[The Assault on Battery
If there was one symbol of secession, one cause of the war, in the minds of the average Union soldier, it was the hated city of Charleston. It was there that the first convention calling for secession had been held; there that the first shots on Sumter had been fired. The city had to be captured.
[The Siege of Plymouth]
One of the problems in pacifying an area as large as the south, from the Union government's point of view, was to decide which was the better option: to concentrate large garrisons in major towns or forts from which they could control neighbouring towns; or to put a small garrison into every town of note. Along the North Carolina coast the latter course was adopted because by early 1864 US Army troops had already captured many of the coastal ports, and had been left in 'penny packets' in several of them to guard against much needed supplies from Europe reaching southern hands.
[The Defence of Fort
In many ways the American Civil War was unlike any other civil war before or after in that by and large the participants acted with restraint and treated their opponents honourably. Naturally there were excesses from time to time - the Confederates declared that many of their men had been bayoneted after capture in the early stages of Cedar Mountain, for example - but such incidents were rare. As time went on, and the south began to suffer, however, many southerners, especially from the frontier where violence was a normal part of life, began to grow desperate. The states then considered western stares, such as Tennessee, were usually the scenes of harsher fighting between neighbours, who claimed to represent the north or south. It was not long before the Civil War in those areas took on the appearance of the traditional civil war that was characterized by atrocity. Confederate supporters shed much of their conventional honourable behaviour when confronted by African-Americans wearing the uniform of the US Army.
Of course the Federal government was aware of these factors and had from the beginning made it a strict policy that all its soldiers be treated equally, regardless of race. Retribution was threatened against any Confederates who mistreated US soldiers of any sort. The Confederate government knew this, and as a matter of policy did not visit especially harsh treatment on the majority of US coloured prisoners.
What Forrest's men demonstrated to civilians throughout the world was that they were terrorists and not soldiers of honour... Southerners simply did not believe that their men would behave like this. But Europeans believed that a massacre had taken place, and Fort Pillow became another nail in the coffin of European support. Northern civilians believed it too, and it strengthened their resolve at the same time that it gave them added compassion for the lot of the black in the south... In the long run, the action of Forrest's men - and there is no real evidence that he ordered their actions - did more to hurt the souther cause than help it. Fort Pillow, a defeat for the Union, eventually helped create its victory.
[The Raid on Centralia]
The action during the Civil War was by no means confined to a series of epic battles, but included thousands of minor skirmishes in small towns with little result save grief and bitterness, especially in the frontier areas. There were no front lines in states like Missouri, torn between the pro- and anti-slavery factions long before war was declared. Neighbours attacked neighbours. Uniforms meant little, both sides wearing each other's as needed. The combination of Civil War and frontier ethics made for a situation where life was cheap.
[The Battle of Cedar
The Shenandoah Valley was one of the most important pieces of real estate in the entire Confederate States of America, producing as it did a large proportion of the food consumed by both civilians and soldiers in the Richmond area. It was important to the Confederates too, because as long as it was under their command they threatened the north's capital city of Washington. The Valley had long been the scene of important Confederate victories. Stonewall Jackson had made his reputation there, in 1862, when he destroyed three small Union armies that tried to take it.
[The Battle for Fort
While Lee's army outside Petersburg could stand Grant's army off for the time being, prospects for the long term looked bleak. The Confederacy was running out of everything needed to fight a war - men, equipment and food. Lee's army couldn't hang on indefinitely, and everyone knew it. Meanwhile, Lee's army continued to shrink, his battle losses exarcerbated by malnutrition and desertion. Soldiers were bombarded with letters from home, often by now behind enemy lines, begging them to return as their families were in danger of starvation. These were hard to resist, especially for a cause that was beginning to look so doomed. Those Confederates who remained loyal to the colours became less and less physically able to withstand the rigours of campaigning... By early 1865 it was obvious to most that the Army of Northern Virginia had no chance against the Army of the Potomac, which was vastly superior in terms of numbers and equipment and by then, at the very least the equal in terms of fighting abilities.
# THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR SOURCE BOOK
The Civil War is the keystone of American history; it holds the fascination of millions today, either as a period deserving of serious study or at the level of 'Gone with the Wind'. This book is an attempt to gather many of the basic facts of that war under one cover.
On a personal note, I believe that my generation is better able than any other to understand the attitudes of those who fought the Civil War... I believe in the cause of the Union, the defeat of slavery and the victory of the Old Flag. At the same time, I belong to the only other generation of Americans who lost their war. In the end Vietnam was as lost a cause as was that of the Confederacy. And the scars of that loss burden those of us who served there as did the scars of the South's loss burden a generation of Southerners. Both of us received much the same treatment at home. Hence, we of Vietnam are strongly drawn to those of the Confederacy.
By the time the Constitution had been ratified by all the original 13 states the question of human slavery had become a major one... To avoid splitting up the new country over the issues, the framers of the Constitution avoided dealing directly with it... But as the country grew the slavery question also grew? Would the newly added states be slave or free? In Kansas or Missouri, men took up arms and killed one another over the question.
"The peculiarity of
the rebel yell is worthy of mention, but none of the old soldiers who heard
it once will ever forget it. Instead of the deep-chested manly cheer of
the Union men, the rebel yell was a falsetto yelp which, when heard at
a distance, reminded one of a lot of school boys at play. It was a peculiar
affair for a battle yell, but though we made fun of it at first, we grew
to respect it before the war was over. When the Union men charged, it was
heads erect, shoulders squared and thrown back, and with a firm stride.
But when the Johnnies charger, it was with a jog trot in a half-bent position,
and although they might be met with heavy and blighting volleys, they came
on with the pertinacity of bulldogs, filling up the gaps and trotting on
with their never ceasing 'ki-yi' until we found them face to face."
- Gilbert Adam Hays, "Under the Red Patch", 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteers
Despite the small number of ships commissioned the Confederate Navy's high seas campaign had mixed results. On the plus side, hundreds of US Navy ships that could have been blockading duty were sent in largely fruitless searches for the Confederate cruisers. However, neither the Confederate crusiers nor the privateers did any serious damage to American exports and imports. Only some 5% of the Northern merchant marine had been destroyed. Still, fears of being captured and rising insurance rates caused about half the North's ships to be reflagged to prevent capture. The US Merchant Marine, which had been one of the world's largest, never fully recovered its place in world shipping.
Few men ran to the rear when they came under fire, although this might be seen to be a rational move. More than a century before the Civil War, an Englishman, Dr Samuel Johnson, wondered why, and in 1759 he came up with an answer that has been verified in 20th century studies of why American soldiers fight. Johnson wrote that each English soldier, although not terribly well trained or endowed with property to defend or even affected by theoretical ideas of liberty, believed himself responsible for himself and that no man was his superior. Hence, he fought bravely to earn the esteem of his peers, for the sake of his reputation among his brother soldiers, rather than for theoretical ideas such as Union or states' rights or abolition.
In the noise and turmoil of battle, many men are unable to tell whether their own weapon has fired or not. They actually load cartridge on top of cartridge without firing a shot. One rifle-musket at Gettysburg after the battle had 23 rounds in it.
"Go an tell General
Wickham that he may command the men of the South, but he does not command
the women of the South and we will stand here and die with you until you
whip those Yankees."
- Hobart Asquith, reporting on a Confederate mother who refused to evacuate her home
When the end came,
the Confederacy fell apart extremely quickly. Perhaps amazingly, there
was no overall retribution by the US government for the crime of rebellion;
no mass hangings or prison terms for any but a handful of Confederate leaders...
On the whole the North was sick of bloodshed. The Confederate armies were
simply disbanded. Robert E Lee and the other important Southern military
leaders were left alone in their homes. Many ex-Confederate civilian and
military leaders even eventually returned to positions of authority in
the US government; Confederate Major General Joseph Wheeler is said to
have rallied his troops as a US Major General of volunteers in Cuba with
the cry, "Come on boys, we've got the damn yankees on the run!"
However, the Confederates at the moment of surrender were left without any money, and far from home. Moreover, much of the South's transportation system had been destroyed, so that most ex-Confederate soldiers had to walk home... Confederate soldiers returned home to often hostile civilians. Many, especially in the deep South, had been unaware of how badly the war was going for them and treated the returning veterans as cowards for giving up. Most returning Confederates had to beg food or steal on their way home, and were resented for that; many civilians shut their doors to them as they passed on the roads, others gave generously. When they finally got home, they often found their property in ruins.
In 1876 the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) veterans' association numbered only 26,889, and did not reach its peak membership of 427,981 until 1890 by which time memories of war's terrors had healed... It was not until June 1889 that the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) was formed, but at its peak in 1904 it numbered only 160,000 veterans. Eventually the bitterness of war abated to the point where the GAR and UCV began holding occasional joing encampments. In 1913, for the 50th anniversary of Gettysburg 54,000 veterans from both sides gathered. The high point of the event was when 180 veterans of the Philadelphia Brigade, which had defended the centre of the Union line, met 120 survivors of Pickett's Division who had formed up 100 feet from the stone wall defending line and marched under their original colours towards the wall. When they got there, the two sides clasped hands across the wall while spectators cheered.
General Officers of the United States: There were two grades of general officer, brigadier general and major general, until March 1864 when Congress appointed Ulysses S Grant to yet a higher grade, that of lieutenant general. A brigadier general commanded a brigade; all higher formations were commanded by major generals. The Union Army had 1 lieutenant general, 132 major generals and 450 brigadier generals of full rank.
US Sharpshooters: Colonel Hiram Berdan was authorized to raize a regiment of marksmen as the US Sharpshooters on 14 June 1861. A second regiment was authorized on 28 September 1861 since there had been so many volunteers who passed a shooting test for the first regiment. The test required the applicant to place 10 shots in a 10-inch circle from 200 yards. Originally armed with Colt revolving rifles, which tended to discharge all its rounds simultaneously, they were next armed with Sharps breech-loading rifles in May 1862. In terms of organizational assignments, the regiments tended to be treated as typical infantry, but serving tactically as skirmishers rather than fighting in regular battle lines. The US Sharpshooters wore regiulation infantry uniforms but of dark-green cloth.
Leaders on both sides received their initial military training at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. In 1861 the Corps of Cadets consisted of 278 cadets in all four classes at the four-year school. Of these, 86 came from the South; 65 resigned rather than fight their states or were discharged for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, while 21 remained in the Army. Students were basically trained as engineers, although they also studied such subjects as French, tactics, history, mathamatics, and natural and physical sciences.
General Officers of the Confederate States: The Confederate Army had four types of general: brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general and general. All four were appointed by the President, but their commissions had to be approved by the Senate as was the case in the Union army. In all the Confederate Army had 425 general officers. Of these 77 were kiled or mortally wounded, 19 resigned, 15 died accidentally or from disease, 2 were killed in duels, 1 was murdered, 1 committed suicide, 1 retired because of wounds and 1 was demoted to colonel. 5 had their commissions cancelled and 3 refused to accept their commissions. A total of 146 of them were graduates of West Point.
One of the first things the Confederate Congress did was to pass a law that made all prior US laws that did not conflict with the Confederate Constitution once more the law of the land.
Robert E Lee was a brilliant tactician, although less brilliant as a strategist. he often overlooked the long view, as for example in giving more emphasis to the war in his own states than in the West where the South actually lost the war. He was a gambler, always going for the knockout punches at battles like Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, where the more conservative tactics urged by Longstreet could have been more succesful but would not have actually destroyed the Union Army. He failed to discipline his generals sufficiently, allowing men like Stuart to pursue their own interests rather than being sufficiently subordinated to the overall interests of the cause. This said, it is also true that the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia lasted as long as it did is as much due to Lee's influence over, and belief in, his troops as much as to his opponents' ineptness.
George Armstrong Custer (1839-76): Graduating last in his class, and among the last in cavalry tactics in his class from the US Military Academy in 1861, Custer began his career in the staffs of Generals McClellan and Alfred Pleasonton. His bravery as well as enterprise as a staff officer saw his rise to the rank of captain by June 1863 when he was suddenly promoted to the rank of brigadier generals of volunteers and given the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Cavalry Division. His Michigan's Brigade's heroic charge at Gettysburg stopped Stuart's attempt to reach the Union rear and greatly contributed to that victory. In October 1864 he was given command of the 3rd Cavalry Division and served with distinction in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign; at Yellow Tavern, where JEB Stuart was killed during one of Custer's charges; and at the Third Winchster; Fisher's Hill; and Five Forks. It was Custer and his men who completed the entrapment of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. He was especially noted for his long reddish-blonde hair and his unique uniform, of black velvet trimmed with gold, with a wide-collared navy-blue shirt with a silver star at each side and a crimson necktie - all quite dramatic and against regulations. After the war, Custer received a regular army commission as a lieutenant colonel in the 7th Cavalvry Regiment. He led this regiment, heroically and impetuously as always, to its destruction at Little Big Horn on 25 June 1876 where he paid the final price for his failure to do better in cavalry tactics.
Winfield Scott (1786-1866): Little known today, Winfield Scott was probably America's finest soldier. Appointed to the army in 1808, he served with rare distinction as a young brigadier general in the War of 1812 at Lundy's Lane, where he was badly wounded. A politician as well as a soldier, President Polk didn't want him to see field service in the Mexican War even though he was the army's chief general, but was finally forced to do so. Scott planned and led a brilliant drive against overwhelming odds inland from Vera Cruz to Mexico City along the National Road. Watching from his office in London, the ageing Duke of Wellington said that Scott was lost when he cut loose from his lines on the coast, but Scott proved the victor of Waterloo wrong. When the Civil War started, 'Old Fuss and Feathers' as he was called because of his devotion to elaborate dress uniforms, was stout, ill and unable to mount a horse. None the less, he designed the 'Anaconda Plan', to destroy the South by blockading Southern ports, clearing the Mississippi River and driving against Richmond. At the end, it was Scott's plan implemented by Grant that won the war. In the meantime he had been replaced by McClellan and retired on 1 November 1861. He lived to see the South returned to the Union, his last battle fought and won, and died at the home of the US Army, West Point, on 29 May 1866, where America's greatest soldier now lies.
# WITH MY FACE TO THE ENEMY: Civil War Perspectives
"Major, tell my father
that I died with my face to the enemy."
- Colonel I.E. Avery, Confederate soldier at Gettysburg (1863)
[From "Lincoln Takes
Charge" by David Herbert Donald]
"If you are as happy, my dear sir, on entering this house as I am in leaving it and returning home, you are the happiest man in the country."
- President James Buchanan handing over the White House to President Lincoln
Pressured by member of his party in Congress, Lincoln reluctantly agreed to accept minor concessions that would yield nothing of substance but might give more support to Southern Unionists - the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, repeal of personal liberty laws, the interstate slave trade... But on one point he was immovable: the extension of slavery into the national territories. Like most Republicans, he believed that if slavery could be contained within its present boundaries it would inevitably die out, but if the South's "peculiar institution" was allowed to expand it would take on a new and virulent life.
"The plan succeeded.
They attacked Sumter, it fell and thus, did more service than it otherwise
- President Lincoln, after maneuvering the South into firing the first shots
This does not mean that Lincoln sought to provoke war. His repeated efforts to avoid collision in the months between his inauguration and the firing on Fort Sumter showed that he had adhered to his vow not to be the first to shed fraternal blood. But he had also vowed not to surrender the forts. That, he was convinced, would lead to the "actual, and immediate dissolution" of the Union. The only resolution of these contradictory positions was for the Confederates to fire the first shot. The attempt to relieve Fort Sumter got them to do just that.
The attack on Fort Sumter revived the Lincoln administration, which had appeared indecisive and almost comatose, and gave it a clear objective: preserving the Union by putting down the rebellion.
On April 15, the day after Fort Sumter surrendered, Lincoln issued a proclamation announcing that the execution of the laws in the seven states of the Deep South was obstructed by "combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings," and he called for the states to supply 75,000 militiamen "in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed."
Senator Stephen Douglas worked heroically to convince Democrats to support the president, because "the shortest way to peace is the most stupendous and unanimous preparation for war."
[From "Band of Brothers:
The West Point Corps" by Thomas Fleming]
No institution more poignantly mirrored the split of a nation than the US Military Academy at West Point. In the single building that served as the cadet barracks, Northeners tended to live in the east wing while Southerners occupied the south and west wings, with the central sally port acting as a kind of Mason-Dixon line. Sectional differences led to constant brawls... Sometimes past performance at the academy could offer a clue to the way leaders would behave in action. Before the Battle of Atlanta in the summer of 1864, William T. Sherman asked three of his generals what their classmate, Confederate commander John Bell Hood, had been like as an underclassman. Impetuous, they replied, and Sherman set about preparing for an immediate Confederate attack - which came, and which he handily beat back.
- Introduction from editor Robert Cowley
The battlefield was the grisly graduate school in which West Point men learned the ultimate lessons in the art of modern war.
At army posts across the nation, the news of Fort Sumter was heard with shock and dismay. One of the most dramatic reactions took place in Los Angeles. Tall, soldierly Captain Winfield Scott Hancock, class of 1844, and his wife, Almira, invited their Southern friends to a farewell party. The guests included George Pickett and Dick Garnett, friends from Mexican days as well as West Point, and Lewis Armistead of Virginia, who had failed to graduate with the class of 1837 but had joined the army two years later and won three promotions for bravery in Mexico. The evening was full of suppressed emotion. Around midnight, the wife of one of the officers began playing some of their favorite songs. She struck up "Kathleen Mavourneen," with its mournful words of parting: "It may be for years, it may be forever."
"Pursuit is a part
of generalship no theory can teach to one to whom nature had not given
the faculties of a general."
- Dennis Hart Mahan, West Point's military philosopher
Although the West Point officer was admirably equipped to command a battalion or a regiment, beyond that level, as was perhaps best described by Jacob Cox (a citizen soldier from Ohio who rose to the rank of major general), "the mental furnishing of a West Point man was not superior to that of any other liberally educated man." He admitted, however, that the citizen soldier lacked the professional's "habit of mind" and familiarity with danger and violent death... but a graduate had no more opportunity for enlarging his strategic and tactical thinking than any other officer in the army.
"I'm smarter than Grant;
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 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."
- General Phillip Sheridan, assessing his friend and superior US Grant
The Battle of Gettysburg was, in many ways, a climactic West Point confrontation. Commanding the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge was Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. Among the brigadiers under George Pickett were Richard Garnett and Lewis Armistead.
Not all encounters among the West Point men in the war were so tragic. One night during the drive on Richmond in 1864, Grant noticed that bonfires had suddenly sprouted all along the Confederate lines. Scouts informed him that the Southerners were celebrating because George Pickett's wife had given birth to a son. "Haven't we some kindling on the side of the line?" Grant asked. "Why don't we strike a light for young Pickett?" Soon, answering bonfires were glowing along the Union lines.
[From "What Took the
North so Long?" by Williamson Murray]
"War is an option of difficulties."
- General James Wolfe (1757)
The superior command skills of the Confederate generals in the East were more than counterbalanced by the quality of Union leadership in the West... The length of the war has far more to do with the immensity of the geographic arena and the complexities of modern war than with the supposed superiority of Southern manhood and the competence of Southern generals. Geography offers a major clue as to why the North found it so difficult to project its industrial and military power into the Southern states and end the rebellion. Taken together, Mississippi and Alabama are slightly larger than what was once West Germany. The distance from central Georgia to northern Virginia is approx. the distance from East Prussia to Moscow... Considering that it took Napoleon from 1799 to 1807 to reach the frontiers of czarist Russia, one should not be surprised it took the North so long to conquer the South... Without railroads and steamships, the North would not have been able to bring its power to bear and probably would have lost the war.
The Civil War was the first modern war, one in which military power, built on popular support and industralization, and projected by the railroad and steamships over hundreds of miles, approached the boundary of "absolute war". Neither the strategic vision nor the military capacity to win the war existed at the onset. The mere creation of armies and their requisite support structure created problems that were neither readily apparent nor easily solved. The Union leadership did evolve a strategy that at last brought victory, but the cost was appalling: somewhere in the region of 625,000 dead on both sides... Given what we know of the cost of war in the modern world, we should not be surprised at the cost of this terrible conflict. We should, rather, wonder how the leaders of the Union - unversed in strategy at the beginning of the war, masters by its end - were able to see it through to its successful conclusion.
[From "Failed Southern
Strategies" by James McPherson]
In narratives of their campaigns written years after the Civil War, Generals Joseph E. Johnston and Pierre G.T. Beauregard agreed that the Confederacy should have won the war. The Southern people, wrote Johnston, were "not guilty of the high crime of undertaking a war without the means of waging it successfull." And Beauregard insisted that "no people ever warred for independence with more relative advantages than the Confederates." The thinly veiled charge in such statements was that the Confederacy's failure lay on the shoulders of its commander in chief, Jefferson Davis.
Was Robert E. Lee's preoccupation with Virginia a consequence of paraochialism that limited his vision to the East while the war was being lost in the West? What we do know is that Lee was far from alone in perceiving Virginia as the most important theater. Most people in the North and South, as well as European observers, shared that view. While it may be true that the Confederacy lost the war in the West, it is also clear that Lee's victories in the East came close on several occasions to winning the war, or at least to staving off defeat.
The Confederacy was tottering on the edge of disaster when Lee took command on June 1, 1862, with the enemy six miles from Richmond... within a month Lee's offensive-defensive strategy during the Seven Days' battles had dramatically reversed the equation in the eyes of most observers, whose view was focused on Virginia... Again in the summer in 1864 it was principally Lee and his army that almost caused the North to throw in the toweland forced Lincoln to conclude that he would not be re-elected and the Union might not be preserved... As late as February 1865, Secretary of War Edmin M. Stanton and Senator Charles Sumner agreed that "peace can be had only when Lee's army is beaten, captured or dispersed." So long as that army remained "in fighting condition, there is still hope for the rebels," but, "when Lee's army is out of the way, the whole Rebellion will disappear." And so it proved, Appomattox was the actual, if not literal, end of the war.
Several million words, or so it sometimes seem, have been written about which Confederate general was responsible for losing the battle of Gettysburg: Lee because of overconfidence, aggressive tactics or mismanagement; Stuart because of his absence; Ewell because of his failure to attack Cemetery Hill on July 1; or Longstreet for his lack of enthusiasm and promptness in the attacks on July 2 and 3. It was left to George Pickett to fill the void left by these various interpretations. When someone thought to ask Pickett after the war who he thought was responsible for the Confedeate defeat, he reflected for a moment before replying, "I always thought the Yankees had something to do with that."
[From "How Lincoln
Won the War with Metaphor" by James McPherson]
There were passages in the president's writings that came as close to a lyrical expression of Northern purpose as anything short of poetry could. Such eloquence captured the popular imagination and defined the meaning of Union and why it was worth fighting for.
In an essay on the reasons for Confederate defeat in the Civil War, the Southern historians David M. Potter makes a striking assertion: "If the Union and Confederacy had exchanged presidents with one another, the Confederacy might have won its independence." Is this rather dramatic conclusion justified? Most historians would probably agree with Potter's general point that Jefferson Davis's shortcomings as a leader played a role in the Confederate defeat. They would also agree that one of Davis's principal failures was an inablity to communicate effectively with other Confederate leaders and with the Southern people.
One of the secrets of Lincoln's success as a communicator was his skill in the use of figurative language, of which metaphor is the most common example. We all use metaphors every day. We tell someone to stop beating abround the bush; we see light at the end of the tunnel; and so on. These examples are "dead" metaphors - that is, they are so commonplace that we often do not realize that they are metaphors, and thus they lose their power to evoke a vivid image in our minds.
Lincoln used an expressive metaphor to describe the threat of succession... He discussed Southern warnings of the dire consequences of a Republican president was elected. "In that supposed event," said Lincoln, directing his words to the South, "you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ar, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"
He also used an apt metaphor to illustrate how a lesser constitutional right - of property in slaves - might have to be sacrificed in the interests of a greater constitutional duty, that of preserving the nation's life: "Often a limb must be amputated to save a life... In our case, the moment came when I felt that slavery must die that the nation might live!"
The chief liberty that Southerners believed to be threatened by the election of Lincoln was their right to own slaves... Lincoln illustrated the paradox of conflicting definitions of liberty with an Aesopian fable: "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as a destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one."
Lincoln put symbolic themes of past, present and future together in his most famous poem, the Gettysburg Address. This elegy uses no metaphors in a conventional sense; rather there are what literary scholars have called "concealed" or "structural" metaphors - that is, metaphors built into the structure of the address in such a way that they are not visible but are essential to its meaning. The Gettysburg Address contains three parallel sets of three images each that are intricately interwoven: past, present, future; continent, nation, battlefield; and birth, death, rebirth... Life and death in this passage have a paradoxical but metaphorical relationship: Men died that the nation might live, yet metaphorically the old Union also died, and with it died the institution of slavery. After these deaths, the nation must have a "new birth of freedom" so that the government of, by and for the people that our fathers conceived and brought forth in the past "shall not perish from the earth" but be preserved as a legacy for the future.
[From "Grant's Tennessee
Gamble" by Geoffrey Perret]
The biggest surprise of the Civil War was Ulysses S. Grant, who had left the army in 1854 dogged by rumors that his undoing was drink. The bottle was only part of the story. Grant drank because he was a highly intelligent man bored by peacetime service in California and profoundly depressed at being separated from his wife and children for nearly two years. The very day in 1854 he received his commission as a captain in the regulars, he submitted his resignation. Few of his fellow West Point graduated from the class of 1843 had made permanent captain by 1854. In quitting when he did, Grant was making the point that it was the army that had failed him, not he who had failed the army. After "studying the poverty question," as he wryly put it, first as a farmer, then as a rent collector in St. Louis, he went to work in his father's leather store in Galena, Illinois.
"I suppose this work
is part of the devil that is in us all."
- Ulysses S. Grant, after a bloody battle
[From "Malvern Hill"
by Stephen W. Sears]
The Eastern theater of the Civil War obsessed Americans, much the way the Western Front in Europe would occupy the world half a century later. In the North, especially, leaders and public alike became fixated on events in the Washington-Richmond corridor. They tended to overlook, for example, the stranglehold the Federal navy kept on the Confederate coastline or its increasing control of the river system beyond the Appalachians. Nor did they immediately give the campaigns in the West, with their fluid maneuvers and frequently impressive generalship, the credit they deserved. But you can argue that those few Virginia miles were the critical area of the war, and that a disproportionate amount of the Confederacy's political, moral and economic vitality was concentrated in them. If they fell, so would the Confederacy.
- Introduction from editor Robert Cowley
From an unlikely combination of circumstances - a march down the wrong Quaker road, misunderstood observations, Lewis Armistead's ardent Virginians, a medication laced with morphine, and Robert E. Lee's inability to make his orders clear - would spring the bloody battle for Malvern Hill.
Malvern Hill is customarily considered, along with Pickett's Charge, to be one of Robert E Lee's great mistakes of the war. Simply judged on the tactical level it was indeed a mistake, yet unlike Pickett's Charge it sealed a larger victory. The Army of the Potomac would be rendered impotent, penned up at Harrison's landing until it was evacuated from the Peninsula six weeks later. The Seven Days proved to be Richmond's deliverance, and the Battle of Malvern Hill, for all its bloody fumbling, was vital to that result. Lee failed to break the Yankees' army, but he most assuredly broke the Yankees' commanding general.
[From "Stonewall Jackson's
Last March" by Stephen W. Sears]
Stonewall Jackson's particular fame was as a flanker. Armies in this war, said his fellow general James Longstreet indelivately, were as sensitive about their flanks as a virgin. It seemed that Stonewall Jackson was forever either attacking or turning a Yankee flank or turning one.
"Let us cross over
the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."
- Stonewall Jackson's last words on his deathbed
[From "The Antagonists
of Little Round Top" by Glenn La Fantasie]
At around 3pm on July 2nd, General Meade has reconnoitred his position, sending General Gouverneur K. Warren to inspect the southern end. Warren reached Little Round Top around 3:30pm, only to find it almost deserted. A junior officer thought some Confederate troops might be nearby, so Warren ordered a gunner near the base of the hill to fire a single shot towards a stand of woods in the west. As the round whistled overhead, hundreds of Longstreet's soldiers turned to follow its flight. When they did so, sunlight glinted off their barrels and bayonets, giving away their presence. Warren realized that the position was about to be overrun and sent aides to get help... Colonel Strong Vincent put Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at the left end of the Union line.
"Rapid change of conditions
in all human affairs bring unexpected results."
- Colonel William Oates, commander of Confederate forces on Little Round Top
[From "The Frontal
Attack" by Paddy Griffith]
A major infantry attack in the Civil War was a horribly dangerous business, just as it had been in Napoleonic times. Troops were often asked to advance in a closely packed formation, under a dense hail of bullets, right up to bayonet range of the enemy... The problem for tacticians was to find ways to persuade their men to cross the vital, final few yards separating the opposing battle lines. Some means had to be found to give the troops that added little bit of enthusiasm or some other combat edge that could make all the difference.
It was an article of faith that troops committed to a charge should be fresh and well in hand, preferably having eaten not long before. Failure to observe this principle had brought disaster to the British at New Orleans, and it was to bring equal disaster to many a Civil War regiments thrown carelessly into a fight.
"In Battle the order
to charge is not given in the placid tones of a Sunday-school teacher,
but with vigorous English, well seasoned with oaths, and a request, frequently
repeated, to give tham that particular province of his Satanic Majesty
most dreaded by persons fond of a cold climate."
- Charles E. Davis, historians of 13th Massachusetts Volunteers
Modern studies of combat psychology have shown that constant chatter in a fighting unit helps dispel the loneliness of fear and strengthens cohesion. Civil War officers who shouted themselves hoarse were thus doing the right thing... Nor was it only officers who were supposed to shout. Whole regiments were encouraged to do so. Everyone yelled, defenders as well as attackers... The "Rebel yell" became famous and feared, with its ululating wolf-howl "ow-ow-ow-ow" running back and forth along the Confederate battle line... Wellington's men had used carefully timed cheering as part of their shock tactics 50 years earlier, and it became yet another part of Napoleonic warfare that was carried over into the Civil War.
The basic contradiction between charging at speed and charging in compact formation was never widely understood in the Civil War. Units that tried to go too fast tended to fall apart, while units that marched forward sedately in closed ranks had all too many opportunities to stop, open fire, and lose their impetus. This had already been a universal problem in Napoleonic times, and was again to be one in the European wars of the mid-19th century.
[From "When Lee Was
Mortal" by Gary Gallagher]
Lee often pursued the strategic and tactical offensive to fashion his victories in 1862-63. This element of his leadership has been frequently questioned by historians because it led to a high number of southern casualties. Critics such as JFC Fuller and Alan T Nolan have discussed at length how Lee's famous victories (as well as some of his defeats) drained Confederate manpower, suggesting that perhaps the South would have been better off with a less pugnacious officer in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia... There can be no denying that the Army of Northern Virginia paid a frightful butcher's bill.... In all, more than 90,000 Confederates fell between Lee's assumption of command and the end of 1863. Did the results justify the horrible attrition? In their determination to paint Lee as overly aggressive, the general's critics have focused on counting strengths and losses; they have been much less interested in trying to access the impact of Lee's operations on civilian morale. Yet the latter question is the more important one, because only persistent popular will enabled the Confederacy to maintain its resistance for four long years... Lee's campaigns conveyed to the Confederate people a sense that their most famous army was taking the war to the enemy rather than simply awaiting the next Federal move.
Confederates impatient with strictly defensive campaigns could argue that such operations had exposed vast stretchs of territory to the Federals while yielding only the most meager long-term results. The capitulation of 30,000 Confederates at Vicksburg capped a defensive disaster, and Joseph Johnston's retreat to Atlanta set up a siege that culminated in a landmark victory for William T Sheridan. Indeed, every major siege of the conflict occured during campaigns marked by Confederate defensive strategies, and each of them ended in Union triumph.
Nor did defensive campaigns conserve Confederate manpower. Defenders almost always reached a point where they had to attack in order to avoid a siege, and these tactical counteroffensives often took place amind circumstances favorable for the attackers.
Jefferson Davis understood that the Confederacy had received an excellent returns on its investment of men and materiel in Lee's generalship. With the celebrated victories of 1862-63 doubtless in kind, the Southern president prophesised just after Gettysburg that Lee's achievements would make him and his army "the subject of history and object of the world's admiration for generations to come." At the time Davis wrote those words, Lee was already the object of his nation's admiration - so much so that his surrender at Appomattox signaled the end of the war to virtually all Confederates (as well as to their Northern opponents). Thousands of Confederate soldiers remained under arms after April 9, 1865, but without Lee and his men in the field there seemed no reason to fight on... Because they believed in Lee so fervently, the Confederate people resisted long past the point at which they otherwise would have conceded their inability to overcome Northern numbers and power.
More than once Lee wrenched the Confederacy toward its goal of independence. During the heady summer and early autumn of 1862, he crafted victories that impressed Europe and sent ripples of doubt and despair through the North... As late as the summer of 1864, Lee's skillful parrying of Grant's thrusts during the Overland campaign, which resulted in enormous numbers of Union casualties, sent civilian morale in the North plunging to its wartime nadir. Over the course of thirty-four tumultuous months, Lee and his army created a record of military accomplishment amid difficult circumstances to which white Southerners looked with pride both during and after the war - he and his army stood as their primary symbol of honorable striving in a cause that had suffered utter defeat.
[From "The Stonewall
Enigma" by John Bowers]
In times of crisis democracy has a way (at least it once did) of creating unexpected leaders, people who, like characters from popular fiction, emerge to take sudden charge when other, supposedly more competent, have failed. That was particularly true of the Civil War. Except for Lee, whose reputation was already well-established, almost all of its major leaders seemed to have experienced periods of debilitating eclipse. John Bowers frames a question that may have no definite answer: "How could Stonewall Jackson — a valetudinarian in peacetime, a poor excuse for a professor at the Virginia Military Institute — have proved to be one of the most daring, brilliant, and tenacious generals on the battlefield?" Had he lived through even one more battle — which would have been Gettysburg — the rest of the Civil War might have been very different.
- Introduction from editor Robert Cowley
[From "Grant at Vicksburg"
by Joseph Glatthaar]
The Vicksburg campaign was Ulysses S. Grant's sterling military feat of the Civil War. In it, he exhibited complete mastery of what modern soldiers call the operational art of war - the use of military forces in major campaigns to fulfill strategic goals in a particular theater.
[From "Hawk in the
Fowlyard: Jeb Stuart" by John M. Taylor]
Whereas Napoleon had once thrown massed divisions of horse soldiers into battle, Civil War armies could rarely rely on more than a few hundred men at one time. In the first three years of the war, the tactical historian Paddy Griffith notes, the cavalry of the Union Army of the Potomac made only five mounted charges against infantry during major battles, all with negligible effect. That was "far fewer than Marshal Ney's cavalry had made in three hours at Waterloo."
"It was not the want
of cavalry that General Lee bewailed for he had enough of it had it been
properly used. It was the absence of Stuart himself that he felt so keenly;
for it seemed as if his cavalry were concentrated in Stuart's person, and
from him alone could information be expected."
- Henry B. McClellan, on Stuart's absence at Gettysburg
[From "The Rock of
Chickamauga: George H. Thomas" by John Bowers]
George H. Thomas was a triumphant Civil War general who led his men to victory in some of the war's hottest battles. He was a true Southerner, a son of the Old Dominion - and he fought for the North.
Nat Turner's rebellion, which began on the night of August 21, 1831, may have been a pivotal event in Thomas's youth. This volcanic uprising, led by a firebrand slave, had no antecedent save for Indian raids a generation or so before. Turner's wild, marauding band wove at random through isolated farms in Southampton County, raping, plundering, ripping society apart at the seems. 15 year old Thomas was called upon to ride to neighboring farms and warn the incredulous that there were in peril. His own family barely escaped with their lives... What Thomas had larned after seeing this revolt was that there is nothing much worse than chaos and a center not holding. Secession and the threat of disorder was not for him. George H. Thomas was everlasting conservative, never the romantic cavalier for a "cause"... Something fundamental and unswerving in his own nature caused him to fight for the Union.
In all matters prudent, Thomas waited to marry until he was 36 and securely ensconsed as an artillery and cavalry instructor at West Point... There is no record of Thomas having had any 'affaire de coeur' before age 36. Until then, apparently, he had been as chaste as a monk. In the spring of 1852, he bagn checking out romantic novels and volumes of poety from the academy library, in addition to his usual requests for works on military matters. It was not long until he became engaged...
"Gentlemen, I know
of no better place to die than right here."
- George H. Thomas, at a council of war
Robert E. Lee, who fought against the Union, is universally honored today. Public buildings and avenues are named after him... Thomas, who fought to save the Union and was crucial to its preservation, is held in far less esteem - if, indeed, most people even know who he is... Could it be we collectively romanticize the Lost Cause and those who led it, while even today we distrust, if not dislike, those who supported the Union but had to fight their own people to do so?
"What a general could
do, Thomas did; no more dependable soldier for a moment of crisis existed
on the North American continent, or ever did exist... Thomas comes down
in history as the Rock of Chickamauga, the great defensive fighter, the
man who could never be driven away but who was not much on the offensive.
That may be a correct appraisal, Yet it may also be worth making note that
just twice in all the war was a major Confederate army driven away from
a prepared position in complete rout - at Chattanooga and at Nashville.
Each time the blow that routed it was launched by Thomas."
- Bruce Catton
Longstreet's Legacy" by Glenn LaFantasie]
Although ambition moved Longstreet, it did not dominate him. Nevertheless, he alwsys hoped for more glory than he received, and tended to think more highly of himself than circumstances warranted. He was an outstanding field general, to be sure, known for carefully sizing up a situation before committing his troops to battle and knowing where to hit the enemy hard with overpowering force... in battle after battle he proved how effective he could be as the staff in Lee's right hand.
While Lee remained alive, no Southerners raised objections to Longstreet's description of the battle of Gettysburg. However, two years after Lee's death in 1870, former Confederates, among them Major General Jubal Early, began an all-out assault against Longstreet. They attacked him for his objections to Lee's conduct during the Gettysburg campaign and the role he had played in the Confederate defeat. This Lee Cult, as it has become known, sought to silence any criticism of Lee and elevate him to an untouchable pedestal of fame and glory. The Lee defenders found Longstreet a convenient scapegoat to explain the defeat at Gettysburg. The Lee Cult ensured that Lee, despite his own admission of responsibility to his men, would not be blamed for losing the battle that, in the estimation of many Southerners, had decided the outcome of the entire war.
The thing Longstreet did best in his life was lead men into battle. Some men some born to war. An aide, Moxley Sorrel, once observed that Longstreet was an "undismayed warrior". In the blaze of battle, when the whole world seemed to be coming apart at its seams, Longstreet remained cool and calm.
[From "Sheridan: Paladin
of the Republic" by Paul Andrew Hutton]
The exact place of Sheridan's birth is unkown... He was most likely born in County Cavan, Ireland, where his parents were tenant farmers, or on the ship en route to the United States. He was an infant when John and Mary Sheridan settled in Somserset, Ohio. Considering the fierce anti-Irish prejudice of the time, subterfuge about his birthplace is understandable. Sheridan was educated in Somerset's one-room schoolhouse, and he came away deeply influenced by the experience. "The little white schoolhouse made us superior to the South," he later remarked. "Education is invincible."
"I have never in my
life taken a command into battle and had the slightest desire to come out
alive unless I won."
- Phillip H. Sheridan
With the war over, Grant immediately sent Sheridan to the Texas border. And although preoccupied with border affairs, Sheridan kept a wary eye on civil affairs in Texas and Louisiana. He distributed his troops at critical points to suppress night-riding white terrorists who attacked freed blacks and white Unionists. The war had radicalized the general, so that by Appomattox he was one of the most stridently Republican and bitterly anti-Southern officers in the army... Sheridan was hardly a crusader, and he clearly subscribed to the racial prejudices of his time, but he was determined to protect the emancipated blacks. He felt that black Americans had earned their freedom during the war, and "it was the plain duty of those in authority to make it secure" and to "see that they had a fair chance in the battle of life."
"If I owned hell and
Texas, I would rent Texas out and live in hell."
- Phillip H. Sheridan, after his service in Texas
[From "The Fort Pillow
Massacre" by Noah Andre Trudeau]
Because he commanded the Confederate forces at Fort Pillow, and because he was later a leader of the early Ku Klux Klan, to this day the name of Nathan Beford Forrest is for many synonymous with racial oppression. For example, in 1979 black Tennesseans tried unsuccessfully to have his bust removed from the State Capitoll in another case a year later, Atlanta decided to change the name of its Forrest Avenue. Fort Pillow is a permanent stain on the career of a man who has also been widely described as "the foremost calavry officer produced in America."
[From "The Boys of
New Market" by Geoffrey Norman]
History generally remembers those battles we call "decisive". Waterloo, Gettysburg, the Marne. But sometimes a small battle of minor consequence will, for some reason, escape the amnesia that blankets the past. We remember Balaklava, for example, though it was an indecisive engagement notable chiefly for the celebrated, suicidal British cavalry charge. The attenion of a great poet can plainly count for a lot. The fight at the Alamo is better remembered than Chapultec, though it was neither decisive nor, certainly, a victory. The legend is larger, surely, than the battle.
[From "The Walls of
1864" by Noah Andre Trudeau]
Noah Andre Trudeau puts his finger on one of the key characteristics of modern war: "The search for glory battles — single engagements with, it was hoped, a decisive outcome — was replaced by extended campaigns in which battles were the means to a strategic end, not an end in themselves." The stand-up set-piece encounters of previous years had given way to ones of constant contact, in which the only victory that counted was the last one, the one that finally broke an opponent's will to fight. The overland campaign in eastern Virginia of U.S. Grant, the new Union supreme commander, during May and June 1864 was, in a sense, an attritional paradign, modern warfare's first. Battles (with the calamitous exception of Cold Harbor) may have ended in draws, or marginal victories for Lee's Army of Northern Virginia; but the Confederates increasingly could not afford the kind of losses that were bearable for the Union. Meanwhile Grant relentlessly edged closer to Richmond. For the moment, the spade and the axe would make up for the Union superiority in men and materiel. As one division commander of Grant's Army of the Potomac wrote, "It became a recognized fact amongst the men themselves that when the enemy had occupied a position 6 or 8 hours ahead of us, it was useless to attempt to take it." Grant's attempt to turn Lee's right flank and the ever-extending trench line that seemed always just a step ahead of his advances was a preview of the 1914 "Race for the Sea" in France and Belgium. The difference was that eventually Lee had to run out of diggers, and when he did, the war would be over.
- Introduction from editor Robert Cowley
The defensive works of the Wilderness, Spotslyvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor had made impossible the kind of rapid marching and open-field fighting that Grant had managed to successfully at Vicksburg in 1863. The unsuccessful Overland Campaign led directly to something that Grant did not want: the nine and a half month siege of Petersburg. The walls of 1864 had determined that there would be another winter of war.
[From "The Fiery Trail
of the Alabama" by John M. Taylor]
The clash between the CSA Alabama and the US Kearsage was, among other things, pure theater. It seemed that everyone in France wanted to watch what would prove to be the last one-on-one duel of the era of wooden ships... the battle off Cherbourg was the Civil War in microcosm: the gallant but outgunned South, ignoring its own shortcomings, heedlessly taking on a superior force.
[From "Jubal Early's
Raid on Washington" by Charles C. Osborne]
In Maryland and northern Virginia, the weekend of July 9-10 was American summer at its most malevolent, setting records for heat and drought. No one who has suffered through the Potomac region's terrible July weather can doubt the weary discomfort of all the participants in Jubal Early's raid on Washington, raiders and defenders alike. Early himself, contemplating the opportunity of his lifetime - reaching Washington before Federal reinforcements could arrive to block his triumphal entry into the city - was indifferent to the weather... But on the march, along roads turned to suffocating corridors of dust, heat prostration felled hundreds of men and horses. By nightfall, the head of the column was entering Rockville, about 20 miles from the Monocacy - though most of the army halted in Gaithersburg, about 5 miles farther west. By this time, Early's expedition was more of a straggling procession than a coherent force prepared to capture a capital.
[From "The Shenandoah:
Rebel Without A War" by Robert F. Jones]
"The last gun in the defense of the South was fired from the deck of the 'Shenandoah' on the 28th of June, Arctic Ocean."
- Captain James Waddell, from his logbook
[From "Ulysses S. Grant's
Final Victory" by James McPherson]
Grant's strength of will, his determination to do the best he could with what he had, his refusal to give up or to complain about the cruelty of fate, help explain the success of both his generalship and his memoirs. These qualities were by no means common among Civil War generals. Many of them spent more time and energy clamoring for reinforcements or explaining why they could not do what they were ordered to do than they did in trying to carry out their orders. Their memoirs are full of self-serving excuses for failure, which was always somebody else's fault.
Early in his memoirs, Grant described General Zachary Taylor, under whom he had served as a 24 year old lieutenant in the Mexican War. Taylor's little army won three battles against larger Mexican forces. Fearing that the general was becoming too popular and might win the Whig presidential nomination, Democratic president James Polk transferred most of Taylor's troops to General Winfield Scott's campaign against Mexico City. This left Taylor with only a handful of veterans and a few raw volunteer regimemts. Nevertheless, he won the Battle of Buena Vista against an army three times larger than his own — and thereby ensured his election as the next president.
As agents to translate
thoughts into action, verbs offer a clue to the secret of Grant's military
success, which also consisted of translating thought into action. Consider
these orders to Sherman early in the Vicksburg campaign:
"You will proceed... to Memphis, taking with you one division of your present command. On your arrival at Memphis you will assume command of all the troops there... and organize them into brigades and divisions in your own army. As soon as possible move with them down the river to the vicinity of Vicksburg, and with the cooperation of the gunboat fleet... proceed to the reduction of that place."
In the manner of Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici," these sentences bristle with verbs of decision: "Proceed... take... assume command... organize... move... proceed..." Note the virtual absence of adverbs and of all but essential adjectives. Grant used these modifiders only when necessary to his meaning.
Grant and many other men who became Civil War generals had demonstrated physical courage under fire in the Mexican War as junior officers carrying out the orders of their superiors. Moral courage involved a willingness to make decisions and initiate the orders. Some officers who were physically brave shrank from this responsibility, because decision risked error, and initiative risked failure. This was George B. McClellan's defect as a commander. He was afraid to risk his army in an offensive because it might be defeated. He lacked the moral courage to act, to confront that terrible moment of truth on the battlefield, to decide and to risk. Grant, Lee, Jackson, Sheridan and other victorious Civil War commanders had moral courage; they understood that without risking defeat they could never achive victory.
Grant's greatest contribution to American history was as a Civil War general. In that capacity he did more to shape the future of America than anyone else except Abraham Lincoln. He earned a secure place as one of the great captains of history, an 'unheroic' hero, in John Keegan's apt description. Both in their substance and in the circumstances of their writing, the personal memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant offer answers to that perennial question of Civil War historiography: Why did the North win?
# THE CIVIL WAR IN FICTION
"Before they built
that church they built that schoolhouse. They rounded every pup into that
schoolhouse because they fancied that everyone should think and talk the
same freethinking way they do, with no regard to station, custom, propriety.
And that is why they will win. Because they believe everyone should live
and think just like them. And we shall lose because we don't care one way
or another how they live. We just worry about ourselves."
- Mr. Evans, a Southerner discussing the Civil War, "Ride With The Devil"
"Blue and Gray is not
always black and white for us here in Kentucky."
- Gen. Haworth, "The Killing Box"
"Have you done this
"I've killed seventeen men!"
- Sue Lee takes Jake to bed, "Ride With The Devil"
"I find I like it too
- General 'Stonewall' Jackson, on why he avoids tobacco, "Gods & Generals"
"We are thankful that,
compared to other battles, the losses here were relatively slight..."
"Compared to what? The Scots at Culloden? The British at Bunker Hill? The French at Waterloo?"
- Sgt. Buster Kilrain, commenting on a letter from Lincoln, "Gods & Generals"
"We left Ireland together
to escape a tyranny and we end up shooting at each other in the land of
- Sgt. Buster Kilrain, as opposing Irish Brigades clash, "Gods & Generals"
"I don't think I can
save that arm."
"I'll be discharged now?"
"Not this time James. Colonels don't need two arms but we do need every man we can get."
- A surgeon and Col. James Jackson, "Queen"
The following quotes are all from the 1980s TV miniseries North And South:
"You should thank me.
Fact is they said you weren't fit to sleep with pigs. I said you were."
- Charles Main to Salem Jones
"My marital status
should present no obstacle to the cause of freedom."
"Nor does it Mr Greene but freedom must ever be coupled with responsibility... perhaps another time, when you yourself are free."
- Virgilia Hazard and Abolitionist Congressman Sam Greene"
"What can we talk about?
All the things that will never be?"
- Madeline to Orry
"If we were lovers
you'd never be free. I don't want you to give up the rest of your life
for me. Forget me, it's the only way."
- Madeline to Orry
"In my heart I'm married
to you and always will be."
- Madeline to Orry
"I declare you just
take my breath away in that uniform Lieutenant."
"Well Ashton you'd be mighty tempting if you were about five years older."
"Well I will be — in about two more years."
- Ashton and George Hazard
"If I can't take Ashton
away from from James Huntoon I don't deserve her."
- Billy Hazard
"I couldn't possibly
love just one man, think how disappointed the rest would be."
"You know I fell in
love with you during our very first dance."
"Was it my face or the uniform?"
"It was the way you looked when Major Laferty cut in on us, like a little lost puppy dog."
- Constance and George
"You don't think it's
a bit too Irish do you?"
- Constance Flynn, in a stunning green dress
"You're out of uniform
"I'm glad you noticed, otherwise I couldn't do this." <wham>
- Major Bent and George
"You never used to
drink straight whiskey... It's not going to help you feel any better. If
you keep to yourself, and keep pouring whiskey on the hurt, there's no
one who can help you."
- George, trying to rouse Orry
"There's nothing anyone
can do except change the subject."
- Orry, discussing Madeline with George
"Thank God there's
one person in our two families that knows who he's fighting and why."
- George, as Charles campaigns against Mexican bandits
"Are you sure it's
a marriage and not a political statement?"
- George, about Virgilia and Grady
"How can I oppose everything
he stands for and still be his friend?"
- George, as slavery comes between him and Orry
"It's happening all
over the country. Bad apples taking over the barrel."
- Charles, as war looms
"I don't leave leaving
something so personal for some war to take care of."
- Ashton, about her vendetta against Billy
"Do you want to go
outside and watch the South celebrate its own funeral?"
- Orry, as South Carolina secedes
"Are you a Northern
"My deepest sympathy is for the South sir."
- Orry is accosted by a Southerner
"Compromise? They have
their fugitive slave law. And I have promised not to interfere in states
where slavery already exists... it's time for the South to compromise also."
- President Lincoln
"You know, years ago
John Calhoun said that West Point men would lead great armies... He never
thought they'd be leading them against each other."
"Well, if we have to meet like that, I'd rather we never meet again."
- Orry and George, saying their farewells as war breaks out
"We must enlist our
own snake and strike like a cobra against their vitals with an attack on
- General Robert E. Lee, countering the Union 'Anaconda' plan
"Our armies were in
as much chaos in victory as theirs in defeat."
- Jefferson Davis, after the Battle of Manassas
"I have been blind
expecting everything to stay the same."
- Orry, returning home in the midst of war
"The easiest thing
I ever did was to love you."
- Madeline to Orry
Mr. Colbert — it's not everyday a lawyer gets to help a scoundrel help
- Rafe Beaudeen
"What part do you want
me to play?"
- Mrs. Sinclair and Madeline, setting up a decoy
"We are gonna chop
the head of the snake right off."
- Alkana Bent
"You were a challenge,
and like so many of life's challenges, once it's met, one moves on."
- Sam Greene to Virgilia
"You're the best friend
a man could ever have George."
"We're family Orry, you remember that."
- Orry and George, closing a tale of epic friendship
# MORE WORKS ON AMERICAN HISTORY
~ Main Americas
~ James McPherson - Battle Cry of Freedom
~ Shelby Foote - The Civil War
~ Alan Taylor - American Colonies
~ John Keegan - Warpaths
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