by Richard Jensen

Civil War part 1 1861-1862

click on highlighted words to jump to additional material not part of History On-Line

  1. 1860-61: Causes and Goals
  2. Confederate Visions and Strategies
  3. 1861: The Home Front: Balance Sheet of Each Side
  4. 1861: Raising Two Great Armies
  5. Weapons of War: Rifles and Cannon
  6. 1861: Stalemate in the East
  7. 1861: The War at Sea: Blockade and Diplomacy
  8. 1862-63: Eastern Front: Lee's Great Victories
  9. 1862: Western Front: Grant: Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee
  10. 1862: Home Fronts
  11. 1862: Conclusion
  12. Appendix: Blockading The Confederacy
Part One 1861-62 of this Essay by Jensen; (what you are reading now)
Part Two 1863-65 of this Essay

  • more of Jensen's Civil War Guides
  • Civil War guide to WWW by Jensen

    1. 1860-61: Causes and Goals
    2. What caused the Civil War was hatred of slavery and disgust with abolitionism, anger at the power of slaveowners and fear of slave insurrections, plus southern nationalism and northern nationalism, plus a myriad of slights and insults, fears and forebodings. Historians still are trying to sort out all the causes. In order to understand the military strategies employed, it is necessary to see how the causes leaders perceived were tied to the war aims they pursued. Journalist Edmund Stedman revealed a common sentiment in the North:
      For fifty years the character of Southerners has becoming daily more domineering, insolent, irrational, haughty, scornful of justice. They have so long cracked whips over Negroes that they now assume a certain inherent right to crack them over white men.... If the Union is to be shattered at the will of a minority, we might as well give up the idea of nationality at once, disown patriotism, and let all go to pieces. "

      Lincoln and his advisors believed that a conspiracy involving a few thousand hot-headed rebels had befuddled the usually sensible Americans south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and were leading an ill- considered, shallow rebellion against the nation that would collapse from its own contradictions in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, as Lincoln explained in his Gettysburg Address (1863), the rebellion was a an illegitimate effort to overthrow both the Constitution and the nation-state it established "four score and seven years ago." There was only one American nation, not two. Southerners who believed in a separate identity had been deluded by fanatics. Lincoln, and most Northerners, feared that success of the rebellion would spell a decisive setback to the founding republican principles of democracy, liberty and equality. America had a unique mission in the world, and dissolution of the sacred Union would disrupt that mission; Americans had to fight to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Lincoln and his top advisors simply did not believe that the southerners were genuinely committed to creating an entirely independent, democratic nation; but indeed they were. The C.S.A. was of course a slaveholding nation. But so too was the U.S.A; when Sumter surrendered it had two-thirds as many slaves as the Confederacy.*
      footnote * There were 2.3 million slaves in the seven original states of the Confederacy, 1.2 million in the four states that joined in April and May, and 430,000 in the four slave states that remained in the USA. Slaves were emancipated in the Confederacy by the combination of Lincoln's presidential orders (the Emancipation Proclamation, 1863), and the occupation by Federal armies, which was complete by May, 1865. By then the border states on their own had emancipated their slaves except for Kentucky. Slavery as a legal, economic and social institution was finally abolished with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December, 1865. "

      Lincoln therefore insisted the basic issue was union not slavery.* Supposing the rebellion would soon disintegrate, Lincoln made a series of decisions in the spring of 1861. First, he refused to negotiate peace terms with the rebels (that would bestow legitimacy upon them and prolong the rebellion). Second, he would hold firm all the U.S. property in the seceding states. By early April, seven cotton states had seceded (dissolving their ties to the U.S.A.), joined together in the Confederate States of America, and elected a Congress and their own president, Jefferson Davis. The Southern rhetoric echoed the calls to rebellion of 1776, as they proclaimed the basis of their new country to be a distinctive national personality. Like Washington, they would never surrender or meekly return to tyrannical rule. Practically all U.S. property was in the hands of the C.S.A., including post offices, custom houses, arsenals, and military installations. The main exceptions were Fort Pickens (in remote Florida), and Fort Sumter, smack in the middle of the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. While the southern states were spending millions of dollars to purchase arms from Europe, and mobilizing tens of thousands of soldiers, Washington made no preparations whatever for war.**
      footnote ** In Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, alert Republican governors secretly mobilized and reequipped volunteer militia companies; when Lincoln called for help they marched the next day. "
      The U.S. Navy's 90 warships (50 of them obsolete wooden sailing vessels) iterated their normal rounds across the globe. Of the Army's 198 companies (19 regiments), 183 remained at their usual stations on the Indian frontier, including 37 in Texas, while the remainder guarded arsenals. Forts and arsenals throughout the South were seized by the rebels without incident, giving the rebellion over 150,000 muskets, hundreds of cannon, and large stocks of gunpowder, uniforms, wagons and horses. In perhaps the most humiliating moment in the annals of the US Army, David Twiggs, one of the four most senior regular generals, eagerly surrendered all 19 federal installations to the Texas state militia in February. One fourth of the enlisted men in the regular army were surrendered, but Texas allowed most of them to return to the North.

      A sovereign nation could hardlyallow the fort of another country in the midst of one of its major harbors, so the rebels demanded the surrender of Major Robert Anderson, commander at Fort Sumter. Buchanan's policy of not provoking the Confederacy had failed. The outgoing president, suddenly overcoming his paralysis and pusillanimity, stood firm, as did Lincoln. The result of the firm policy was that the rebels had to fire the first shot, and that action transformed Northern opinion overnight. The northern public had been completely baffled by the secession process and offered no resistance, but when the rebels fired on Sumter on April 12, 1861, opinion rallied immediately into a patriotic fury: the national honor had been insulted, the nation itself was being destroyed. On April 15, the day after Sumter surrendered, Lincoln issued a proclamation that an insurrection existed and called for 75,000 militia from all the states (including the South) for 90 days service. Sherman warned a rebel who insisted the cowardly Yankees would never fight:
      You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people, but an earnest people an will fight too, and thy are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it.

      In every town and village north of the Mason-Dixon line, patriots rushed to the colors with determination and enthusiasm--youth too young fretted the war would be over before they had their chance to fight. 91,000 volunteers turned out. That would be ample force and time to stamp out a flimsy insurrection, but not one twentieth of the force and time needed to win a genuine civil war.

      The primary mission of the U.S. Army throughout the war was restoration of union, or more exactly, a reconstruction of the Union so that secession could never happen again. Excessively harsh measures that would produce a permanent hatred were avoided until Sherman's "March Through Georgia" in 1864. In 1862, the Republicans put forward a second goal, the abolition of slavery. In strategic terms, Washington had to prevent foreign nations from recognizing the legitimacy of the "so-called" Confederacy, and ultimately it had to destroy the sovereignty of the CSA by planting the US flag on every square mile of southern territory. The Army had to free the slaves and prevent their reinslavement. It would not be enough to win battles or seize Richmond, or to best the rebel armies. The "spirit" of rebellion had to be crushed, along with its legal and economic foundations in the slave system.

    3. Confederate Visions and Strategies
    4. The Confederacy was baffled at Washington's incomprehension. The right of revolution and self-determination had been sacred to the Founding Fathers--especially Patrick Henry, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson--slaveholders and rebels. Southerners angrily denounced the threat represented by Yankee attacks on their time-honored, Constitutionally protected institutions. Slavery, of course, was the institution they (correctly) saw as under attack, but also the democratically elected leaders of their new nation, whom the Republicans considered illegitimate usurpers. More generally, they felt the Yankees (in the devilish persona of Lincoln) were committed to radical reforms of all sorts, and planned to use their political majorities to crush southern aspirations. Above all, Confederates felt that their honor was at stake, that they must become independent. They did not wish to fight a war, even as braggarts claimed that the cowardly, bookish Yankees would be quickly routed by the feisty, outdoorsmen of Dixie. In early 1861 the Confederacy was limited to seven cotton states, where the slave issue was of central concern. Elsewhere in the South, most people wanted to stay with the Union. Everywhere in early 1861 leaders hoped that some sort of compromise could be reached, but no formula was found. The attack on Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops decided the issue. Confederates claimed it proved their basic argument that the Yankees planned to subjugate the South, infringe its rights, and impose alien values. This argument proved decisive in the upper south, leading to the secession of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. To answer Lincoln's 75,000, Jefferson Davis called up 59,000 militia; a far larger number volunteered. Slavery was one of the causes of secession and war, but not the only one. Relatively few soldiers marched to defend or attack slavery. They were much more highly motivated by honor and patriotism that had no direct connection to issues of race or slavery.

      Realizing that they could not conquer the North, the Confederates adopted a military strategy designed to hold their territory together, gain worldwide recognition, and inflict so much punishment on invaders that the North would grow weary of the war and negotiate a peace treaty that would recognize the independence of the CSA. The only point of seizing Washington, or invading the North (besides plunder) was to shock Yankees into realizing they could not win. The Confederacy moved its capital from a safe location in sleepy, steamy Montgomery, Alabama, to the more cosmopolitan city of Richmond, Virginia, only 100 miles from Washington. A great nation needed a great capital, and Richmond had the heritage and facilities to match Washington. The location helped solidify Virginia's adherence to the new nation; it gave Davis 31 of his 131 generals, and a fifth of the gray- clad soldiers. On the other hand, Richmond's exposure necessitated tying down most of the Confederate army to defend the capital. Richmond was at the end of a long, thin supply line that made defense even more problematic. (In the last year of the war, for example, Lee's cavalry had to be stationed far away where forage was available.) True nationhood required recognition by the European powers, who might provide loans, arms sales, and perhaps even naval action against the Yankee blockade. Winning battles was the best way to make the Yankees weary, and prove to a skeptical world that the Confederate States of America was a legitimate, permanent nation that controlled its own territory and deserved full diplomatic recognition. The new Confederate army had its mission: hold Richmond and win some major battles.

    5. 1861: The Home Front: Balance Sheet of Each Side
    6. The relative strength of the two sides was lopsided in favor of the North for a long war, but fairly even for a short one. The Confederacy had to win fast. For a short war, the South had the advantage of a revolutionary psychology. Confederates were realizing the dream of building a new nation, and their enthusiastic patriotism led to a remarkable outpouring of spirits and material. An elite cavalry regiment that might cost a half- million dollars to outfit was no problem when the wealthiest families donated cash, fine horses, and their own sons. High status slaveowners often volunteered as privates to show their commitment to (white) equality; of course they brought a slave or two along as valet or cook. (After a year or two most of them were sent home where they could raise food.) The most talented young men joined the Confederate army; many had experience in militia and even military colleges. Half the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia had attended Virginia Military Institute (which sent to war 1700 of the 1900 students who had ever attended the school).

      Convinced they could whip twice their number of Yankees, the rebels marched eagerly into battle. The best men in the North were not quite so ready to get involved; nine out of ten of the ambitious young men of the 1860s who later became giants of industry did not serve. Andrew Carnegie (age 26) spent a few weeks in 1861 setting up a superb telegraph system for the Union army, then returned to Pennsylvania to make money. Grover Cleveland (age 26), a Democratic wannabe, refused to volunteer; when the draft called his number he purchased a substitute, as did J. P. Morgan (age 26) and Philip Armour (age 31). John D. Rockefeller (age 24), an overachiever and an abolitionist, purchased 25 substitutes while he stayed home. The vast size of the Confederacy, coupled with the superior defensive quality of rifles against infantry or cavalry attacks, meant that it would be preposterous for Lincoln's 75,000 volunteers to make a difference. A full-scale invasion would take years to prepare and over a million men.

      The North had a clear margin of superiority in terms of population (white adult men, 6-1; overall, 3-1), manufacturing (9-1), and railroads (3-1), not to mention telegraph lines, iron (10-1), horses [4.4:17], banks and corn (2-1). These resources were militarily valuable only if the North could figure out how to mobilize their potential. The population advantage changed year by year as the Yankees captured more territory, thus neutralizing the pro-confederate elements. A critical factor involved the South's four million slaves, the great majority of whom in 1860 were producing crops like cotton and tobacco that were of little wartime use. The challenge for the Confederacy was to use the slaves to release whites for battle. This could be done if the plantations switched to food crops, and slaves were used to construct fortifications or to work in munitions factories. When tens of thousands of slaves began escaping behind Union lines, the question was whether they would be a liability for the North in terms of guarding and feeding them, or whether they could be transformed into a military asset wearing US Army uniforms. Whenever blacks were involved, the question of their role was primarily a matter of politics and ideology, rather than optimum utilization of manpower.

      The industrial superiority of the North at 9 to 1 was potentially decisive in a long war, because the factories and engineering skills could be redirected from civilian goods into munitions. It would take a year to retool for rifles, howitzers and ammunition, but only a few months for wagons, telegraph sets, uniforms, boots, blankets, tents and saddles. The South, starting practically from scratch, never had nearly enough machine tools, engineers or mechanics to operate factories. In a short war, however, the North might actually be hurt by its high level of industrialization. Many southerners argued that moneymaking and indoor activity were detriments when it came to command in battle and outdoor survival skills. Actually, the North (with its much larger population) had a larger total number of men accustomed to farming, riding, hunting and other outdoors pursuits. It had far more managers and entrepreneurs with a knack for organization and innovation. What it lacked was men with the self-confidence and personal leadership skills that ownership of slaves helped generate in the South. They needed all the leadership they could get, because Confederate enlisted men were notoriously adverse to discipline and disrespectful of authority and hierarchy. Confederate officers clearly outperformed the Yankees in 1861 and 1862, especially in elite units like the cavalry. (The Yankees, with superior engineering skills, made much better artillerymen and sailors.) The question was how fast the Yankees could learn, and how flexible their command structure would be in identifying and promoting likely talent. While most of the same elite slaveowners who assumed command of companies and regiments a the start of the war held their places for years, the army did conduct officer candidate examinations and commissioned many enlisted men who showed talent, regardless of their class background. The Yankees, less impressed with "family" did a better job in identifying and promoting talent very rapidly. By 1863 there were numerous Yankee colonels under age 25, and a few generals. A couple were too young to vote.

      Having too much industry was in some ways a liability for the North. Southerners reckoned that cutting off the supply of raw cotton, and its customary large purchases of food and manufactured items, might cause a depression in the North, leading to depressed prices, lower profits, high unemployment, ethnic riots. If the Yankees were indeed so profit hungry, then a profitless war would swell the peace movement. Yankee factories would take a long time to convert to munitions, but meanwhile Confederate propaganda could display them as a potential threat to the profitability of the British Empire. If London and Paris did some cost-accounting, undoubtedly they would figure out that "Cotton is King," and try to weaken the USA by assisting the CSA.

      No one gainsaid the North's clear superiority in railroad mileage and (even more important) in engineers and mechanics in the rolling mills, machine shops, factories, roundhouses and repair yards that produced and maintained rails, bridging equipage, locomotives, rolling stock, signaling gear, and telegraph equipment. In peacetime the South imported all its railroad gear from the north, or from Europe; the Union blockade completely cut off such imports. The South's 8,500 miles of relatively new line comprised enough of a railroad system to handle essential military traffic along internal lines, assuming it could be defended and maintained. As the system deteriorated because of worn out equipment, accidents and sabotage, the South was unable to construct or even repair new locomotives, cars, signals or track. No new equipment ever arrived, and the Confederacy was unable to capture Yankee railroad equipment. Realizing their enemy's dilemma, Yankee cavalry raids routinely burned and destroyed rails, machine shops, roundhouses, bridges, and telegraph wires. By the end of the war, the southern railroad system was totally ruined--used up, worn out, burned out, irreparable. Destroying the lines the Yankees were using to support their invasions became a high priority rebel target. Their cavalry and guerrillas would burn trestles, cut wires, and sabotage tracks. A railroad through hostile territory was a fragile lifeline--it took a whole army to guard it, because each foot of track had to be secure.

      The South possessed one of the world's longest systems of natural waterways, river ports, wharves, docks, coastal inlets and ocean ports. Riverboats and ocean-going steamers might help equalize transportation resources. The South, however, had scarcely any seafaring tradition, few salt-water sailors, and no warships. The two thousand paddleboats on western rivers were chiefly owned, captained and piloted by northerners. If Lincoln's seamen and soldiers could seize the waterways, he would have superb invasion routes pointed to the heart of Dixie as the Mississippi, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.

      Warfare between two of the largest and richest nations on the globe demanded a high order of political and managerial skills. The North clearly surpassed the South, beginning at the top. Jefferson Davis was probably the strongest president the Confederacy could have raised up. As a former Army officer, Senator, and Secretary of War, he possessed the stature and experience to be president, but certain character defects undercut his performance. He played favorites, was imperious, frosty, and quarrelsome. By dispensing with parties, he lost the chance to build a grass roots network that would provide critically needed support in dark hours. Instead, he took the brunt of the blame for all difficulties and disasters. Davis was animated by a profound vision of a powerful, opulent new American nation, the Confederate States of America, premised on the right of its (white) citizens to self government. However, in dramatic contrast to Lincoln, he was never able to articulate that vision or provide a coherent strategy to fight the war. He neglected the civilian needs of the Confederacy while spending too much time meddling in military details. Davis's meddling in military strategy proved counterproductive. His explicit orders that Vicksburg be held no matter what led sabotaged the only feasible defense and led directly to the fall of the city in 1863. Lincoln, by contrast, did not look the part of a president, but he performed the role brilliantly. His first priority was military victory, and he eventually became a master strategist. Working closely with state and local politicians he rallied public opinion and (at Gettysburg) articulated a national mission that has defined America ever since. His charm and willingness to cooperate with political and personal enemies made Washington work much more smoothly than Richmond. His wit smoothed many rough edges (Davis, he quipped was "that tother fellow.") Lincoln's cabinet proved much stronger and more efficient than Davis's, as Lincoln channeled personal rivalries into a competition for excellence rather than mutual destruction. With William Seward at State, Salmon P. Chase at the Treasury, and (from 1862) Edwin Stanton at the War Department, Lincoln had a powerful cabinet of determined men; except for monitoring major appointments, Lincoln gave them full reign to destroy the Confederacy. The federal bureaucracy performed exceptionally well, in contrast to all but a handful of Confederates. In the South, honor demanded a military uniform at the head of the parade; in the North, achievement accepted subordinate roles in a complex system.

    7. 1861: Raising Two Great Armies
    8. Both Lincoln and Davis recruited entirely new armies to fight the war. The Union had a small professional army of 1,100 officers and 16,000 men. It was needed to hold the frontier forts against the Indians. The 15,000 enlisted men were either good at fighting Indians, or else good for nothing; many were foreigners uninterested in dying for somebody else's cause--only 26 deserted for the Confederacy. By contrast, 286 officers resigned and joined the Confederacy, including half the West Pointers appointed from the South. Many officers who remained had no particular taste for full-scale warfare. Those who did, switched to one of the new volunteer regiments, where promotions were rapid, especially for officers with military academy training or experience in the Mexican War.

      The regiment at full strength of 1000 men had a colonel and 49 other officers; captains commanded the ten companies, each with 82 privates, 13 noncommissioned officers (corporals and sergeants), and two lieutenants. Regiments were not routinely replenished, and after a year or two they typically contained 300 to 500 highly experienced men, some of whom would be temporarily hospitalized. From the soldier's perspective, the regiment was the basic unit for all purposes. He normally stayed with the same unit throughout his war service. In a major battle, however, the commander in chief (usually a major general) worked with his division commanders (brigadier generals), who in turn commanded several brigades (colonels), each made up of several regiments (under colonels). Later as armies grew larger, both sides gained flexibility in battle by grouping its divisions under a corps commander. Every soldier knew at all times who his superiors and subordinates were, and followed only orders that came down the chain of command. "

      Jefferson Davis had been warned accurately (by Robert Toombs) that to shoot at the American flag flying over Sumter meant:
      suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death.

      The prediction proved uncanny, as a surge of patriots flocked to recruiting stations or enlisted in new companies that were hurriedly put together. They were volunteers in the peculiarly American style that had begun in the colonial era and had been repeated in the Revolution, in 1812, and in the Mexican War. They thought that they and the federal government were bound by an implicit contract; they expected to get the job done in 90 days-- and then return home. When the three months' terms expired, many did go straight home. Washington and regimental commanders tried every form of persuasion to encourage the men to volunteer for three-year terms. The most effective appeals invoked patriotism, or told of savage deeds of murder and rapine committed by the other side. (In fact there were few murders and very few rapes at any time during the war, and certainly not in early 1861). Joshua Taylor Bradford, one among many, exulted in "the attraction of war and fascination of its pomp and glitter," as his Ohio regiment paraded in early 1862, "with banners flying and music filling the air with melody." Units with high morale and strong leadership had high reenlistment rates because the buddies wanted to stay together and had enjoyed their adventure so far. "I do not wish to go home & have it said of me that I am a coward & afraid to meet the enemy," an Ohioan explained. Public support in the great majority of northern and southern communities was enthusiastic in the first few months, as parents and loved ones encouraged their young men to enlist. The solemn ceremony of presenting the regimental flag to the colonel and his men was a symbolic demonstration of community support. The few small battles fought in 1861 produced scant casualties; the glamour of uniforms, drilling, of present rank and future manly achievement, often proved irresistible. By the late 1861 the US had fielded 530,000 soldiers and the Confederacy 210,000, in each case about one-fourth the total who would serve at any time during the four- year war.

      Both sides created armies that reflected their traditions. In the North, the Republican and Democratic parties remained active throughout the war, and structured discussion of war issues along partisan lines. In 1861 both supported the war effort. Prominent politicians used their organizational skills to create companies and regiments. The men elected their company officers (lieutenants and captains), who in turn selected the field officers (majors, lieutenant colonels). Naturally, the politicians got themselves elected. The state governors appointed the colonels, and Lincoln (in close consultation with party leaders) chose the generals. At first the commander was Winfield Scott, the brilliant but elderly hero of the Mexican War. The Union system worked well in the first year of the war, as it created an army of talented and dedicated soldiers who had the strong support of their communities back home. Recognizing the need for trained soldiers, the governors sought out non-political West Point alumni, like William Sherman and Ulysses Grant, for colonelcies. Most often, the generals of spring 1861 were ex-governors or ex- Congressmen or party-based senior officials of the state militia, who had excellent political connections but little or no training or aptitude for warfare. Representative were Nathaniel Banks, former governor of Massachusetts, and Ben Butler, militia general from the same state. At the beginning, the company officers (lieutenants and captains) and non-commissioned officers (corporals and sergeants) were just as inexperienced as the privates.

      An effective general needed a variety of complex skills. First was the technical knowledge of administration, logistics and geography. He had to select a personal staff, and work effectively with the generals and colonels assigned to his army by Washington. George McClellan soon replaced Scott as the main Yankee commander. He was an excellent organizer and disciplinarian who took a rag-tag of troops and drilled them into an effective army. A general needed the confidence of his officers and men--he had to look sharp, ride well, act smart, and carry an aura of authority and self-confidence. West Point taught these skills, though it taught very little in the way of tactics and strategy. (In 55 of the 60 biggest battles, West Point generals controlled both armies; in the other 5 they commanded one side.) He had to talk tough about whipping the enemy, and have a vision of how that could be accomplished. A record of victories--much embellished by veteran sergeants around the campfires--helped Lee, Jackson, Grant and Sherman. It should be stressed, however, that after most battles the soldiers on both sides felt they had won a victory, and the newspapers on their side typically exaggerated their successes. Not until the last few months of the war did most Confederates realize they were going to lose. Good relations with the press was an asset, and some way to neutralize the jealousies and enemies back in Washington or Richmond. Joseph E. Johnston was an outstanding general seriously handicapped because Jefferson Davis was his sworn enemy. Lincoln could not abide John Fremont (a political rival and incompetent general), but otherwise submerged his own political and personal preferences to the goal of selecting the generals who would win battles. To fend off his many critics in Washington, Grant deliberately kept his army on the move around Vicksburg in the winter of 1862-63 trying one after another ingenious or oddball schemes would pan out (like changing the course of the Mississippi so the city could be attacked over dry land). "I can't spare this man," Lincoln told whiners, "He fights."

      On the battlefield, a general needed a basic plan that he could explain clearly to subordinates who knew exactly what mission they had to perform. Stonewall Jackson was too reticent, and when he was killed at Chancellorsville his generals did not know how to carry out his vision. At Gettysburg Lee was unusually quiet, and when his schedule slipped he failed to come up with an improvisation. Coordination of multiple attacks was a difficult challenge, but an essential one to prevent the enemy from rushing his reserves from one hot spot to the next. Since armies always pointed forward, they were highly vulnerable to attacks from the flank. Good intelligence, collected by scouts (spies) and cavalry was essential to avoiding a flank attack and developing a good plan. In major battles, the Federals usually had about 20% more soldiers than the Confederates, but the rebels usually tricked the Yankees into thinking the ratio was reversed. A successful general knew which divisions were most effective in shock attacks, and concentrated them, backed up by artillery and reserves, at a chosen critical point. What that point was depended on topography and the enemy's disposition, and could change in a matter of minutes. Robert E. Lee, who took over the top Confederate command in 1862, was unrivaled for his genius at having his best soldiers at the right spot at the right time. Some generals performed best as top lieutenants under close supervision, like James Longstreet and A. P. Hill under Lee, and George Meade and James McPherson under Grant and Sherman. Self confidence, even after defeat--the ability to recover, restore positions and morale, and to immediately whip together a new plan, separated the good from the great. Halleck, McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Buell, Rosecrans and Meade (Union), and Pemberton, Polk, Hood, and Bragg (Confederate) were deficient as top commanders, though several found other useful roles to play. Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, Admiral Farragut and Admiral Porter (Union) had the knack of grasping the overall situation and making the decisive move promptly, along with Lee, Jackson, Johnston, Stuart and Beauregard (Confederate).

      The chain of command system worked to ensure that every officer knew at all times the commander he reported to, and the units that reported to him. At the highest level, in major battles, was the Army, commanded by a two-star general, aided by a personal staff. The army comprised two or three corps, each commanded by a two-star general (and each with its own staff, as well as specialized units such as heavy artillery). Each corps comprised two to four divisions each commanded by a two-star general (and each with its own staff, as well as specialized units such as medium artillery). The divisions comprised several brigades, commanded by a one-star (brigadier) general, and his staff. The brigades comprised several regiments, commanded by a colonel and his staff. Finally the regiment comprised ten companies, each commanded by a captain, and each nominally comprising 65 riflemen (privates) and 35 additional soldiers. In practice units were often commanded by an officer of lower rank--thus brigades were often commanded by colonels instead of brigadier generals. Almost always, units were understrength. At Gettysburg, for example, regiments averaged about 440 actual soldiers present for duty, instead of the allotted 1000.

      From the soldier's point of view, the regiment was his permanent home. Recruited in one locale, and commanded by officers from the community, it stayed together throughout the war, occasionally augmenting its losses by new recruiting back home. The higher units were frequently shuffled around, with regiments or brigades or divisions moved from one larger unit to another.

      In battle, the chain of command meant that there were many different command posts, from regimental to army, stretched over several square miles. Every officer had the obligation to keep the next higher command informed of its status, awaiting its next orders, while keeping track of its own units and issuing them orders. When a unit commander became a casualty the next ranking officer immediately and automatically assumed temporary command. Officers did not issue orders to units that were outside their chain. Orders were usually written--occasionally verbal--and were delivered in person by messengers who rushed back and forth between headquarters along the chain of command. Most of the surviving written orders, from both Union and Confederate armies, were published after the war in a massive 128 volume collection of "Official Records," the full text of which is online.

      Battles usually lasted only a few hours or all day -- a few were longer, such as Gettysburg at three days and Shiloh two days. Battles were normally fought in clear weather during the day (rain ruined the loose gunpowder used to load muskets). But the black powder in use created thick clouds of smoke that soon obscured the view. Combined with the fast movement of infantry units moving this way and that, and delays in getting reports or sending orders, it could happen that units were temporarily cut off from the chain of command and their commanders had to act on their own initiative.

    9. Weapons of War: Rifles and Cannon
    10. The main weapons of the war were rifles and cannon. During the first year or so, a museum of different muskets, rifles, pistols and shotguns of varying quality and caliber were used. The variety (especially in the Confederacy) complicated the challenge of supplying the proper ammunition and repairing broken pieces. By 1862 both sides were becoming standardized on one of two muzzle-loading rifle muskets, the Enfield (each side imported about 400,000 from Britain), or the American-designed Springfield (800,000 produced in federal arsenals, 670,000 purchased from private firms in New England.) They were highly accurate and reliable weapons, easy to clean and repair. The Springfield cost $20 in 1861, but economies of scale lowered the price to $11 by 1864. Reloading was a challenge: the soldier had to stand, bite off the paper cartridge, pour the powder down the barrel, then ram home the bullet with the ramrod. Instead of flintlocks, the new guns used percussion caps that fired the powder after being hit with the hammer. Instead of spherical balls, the lead bullets were cone-shaped, with an indentation on the bottom. When fired, the base would expand and grab hold of the rifling (spiraling notches) inside the barrel, which sent them spinning forward with greater velocity, accuracy and range than could be achieved by a smoothbore musket. The rifles were deadly accurate to several hundred yards; a well-trained squadron could fire two volleys a minute. However, in the heat of battle it was very easy to make a mistake and jam the weapon.

      Much better small arms had been invented, but were not in wide use until 1863. Some elite units, like sharpshooters and the Union cavalry, were issued breechloading rifles like the Sharps. They loaded like today's rifles, using a bullet in a brass case that contained powder and primer. They could be reloaded rapidly from the saddle or prone on the ground, and they jammed less often. In 1861 Christopher Spencer invented the best weapon of the war, the repeating breechloading carbine (a carbine is a short, light rifle that does not carry a bayonet). It could fire fifteen shots a minute, giving the Union cavalry a decisive advantage in firepower. Conservatism in the Ordnance Department delayed adoption of the Spencer. James Ripley, an 1814 graduate of West Point, was a man of sterling honesty, systematic organization, and a hater of waste. By standardizing weapons production on a few reliable models he maximized the output of the nation's arsenals, and shielded the Army from scores of crackpot inventors--and from all the brilliant ones as well. Ripley feared that breechloaders were too expensive ($36) and repeating rifles would cause a horrendous waste of expensive ammunition as soldiers fired wildly in all directions. Lincoln took a strong personal interest in new gadgets, however, and after Ripley was replaced in 1863, the Army bought over 200,000 Spencers. The Confederates never had many breechloaders or repeating rifles; indeed, they had difficulty making the gunpowder, percussion caps, and repair tools for the Enfields and captured Springfields they did use. When they did capture some Spencers they were useless for inability to make cartridges.

      Artillery played primarily a defensive role. The most popular field piece on each side was the Model 1857 "Napoleon," a muzzle-loading smoothbore that fired a 12 pound solid shot and was accurate enough at a few hundred yards. It was light and relatively portable through mud and up hills. Federals used a bronze model, and Confederates an iron one made at the Tredegar iron works in Richmond. For more distant targets, the Federals used the three-inch rifled ordnance gun, and the Parrott , an inexpensive, easily operated rifled gun. Typically each division had 3 or 4 guns per 1000 men. They could fire "grape" (marble- size lead balls) and shrapnel ("canister") into an infantry assault with devastating effect. Since the infantry's new rifles outranged grape and canister, cannon could not easily be used to support an offensive operation; solid shot had relatively small effect on infantry in defensive positions. Artillery was used to knock out the enemy's artillery; if successful, the foe would be vulnerable to an infantry charge. Artillery carried on small river boats ("gunboats") allowed forts and shore installations to be attacked. Many of the major battles on the western rivers or along the coast involved heavy bombardment by Yankee ships and gunboats. The Confederates managed to capture a handful of gunboats, but never enough to accomplish anything. Previously, forts had been considered potentially invulnerable; after the introduction of iron-clad ships using movable turrets with large calibre guns, an attacking fleet had the upper hand. The forts added large calibre guns too, and the ships had to be careful. But floating mortars could lob heavy shells that pounded the forts mercilessly (the mortars were too inaccurate to use against moving targets on water, but could easily hit a big stationary fort.)

      The long range infantry rifle was too deadly for mounted cavalry to survive on the battlefield. Often the horses were used as rapid transportation, and the cavalrymen dismounted to fight as infantry. The cavalry was, however, essential for scouting, reconnaissance, long-range raids, and rear guard defensive action during a retreat. The rifles also made frontal infantry assaults against a prepared defense suicidal. No matter. Yanks and rebs were aggressive fighters, more eager to attack than defend. Given a few hours to dig shallow trenches, or fell trees for cover, a defending unit could hold off three or four times their number in a direct assault. The solution was for the attacker to try and maneuver behind the defenders, or hit them from the side. Most of the battles of the war were geometrical set pieces in the style popularized by Swiss military writer Jomini. Most of the battles from 1861 through 1863 saw two very equally matched armies take the field, with equivalent numbers, equipment, and training. The major difference in 1861-62 was the greater experience of the Confederate generals and colonels. By 1863 the Union army had plenty of experience of its own, and exploited it by replacing the less competent field officers with younger men who had performed well. In 1864, for example, half of Sherman's captains and nine out of ten of his lieutenants were former enlisted men, and practically all his more senior officers had experienced five or more major battles and many minor engagements. The Confederate army experienced the same filtering process, but because its casualty and sickness rate was much higher, it was unable to take as much advantage from its cumulative fighting experience. Some would say the Yankees learned more because in the first couple of years they were fighting a smarter enemy, while the Confederates lacked that "advantage." Galusha Pennypacker enlisted in a Pennsylvania regiment at age 16, winning election as captain a few months later; in 1864 he was commissioned colonel. He won the Medal of Honor at Fort Fisher, where he led the brigade that captured the key rebel fortress; he richly deserved promotion to brigadier general (and "brevet" or "honorary" major general) a few weeks before he turned 21.

      Geography determined the strategy of the war. Distinct considerations applied to the Border, Eastern Theater, the Western Theater, the Naval Theater, and the Home Front. Chronologically, the war can be conveniently divided by years, since the winter usually saw the armies returning to camp with little fighting.

    11. 1861: Stalemate in the East
    12. "On to Richmond!" was the cry throughout the North. On the assumption the rebellion was hollow, a single thrust at its capital city would presumably be decisive. Jefferson Davis, who moved the Confederate government to Richmond in late May, realized the same point, only he had the advantage of several more months of assembling and drilling soldiers. Finally on July 21 Lincoln succeeded in pushing Irwin McDowell, with 35,000 raw troops into battle with his West Point classmate (class of 1838) P. G. T. Beauregard. Urgent action was needed, since some regiments had already completed their 90 days and had started home. Using good intelligence from spies, Beauregard rushed up reinforcements by railroad (the first such use in military history) and had 22,000 men in line at the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas)*. McDowell's intelligence was vague since he failed to use his cavalry for reconnaissance. At first the Rebels wavered under the frontal assault of the charging Yankee infantry, but inspired by general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (his brigade was "standing like a stone wall") they held. The poorly disciplined bluecoats had been under fire for six hours and lost their self confidence. While the southern officers called on a command experience they had learned as slaveowners, the Yankee officers were new to leadership; it was the first battle even for Sherman, despite his 13 years service as an officer, The Federals wavered, broke, then retreated pell-mell all the way back to Washington, with numerous panicky sight-seers in tow. (Dead: 460 USA, 390 CSA). Beauregard's army was as poorly organized as McDowell's, so it was unable to pursue. McClellan, (age 34) took command of Union forces. Robert E. Lee (age 54) took over the Confederate forces in Virginia in May, 1862 after the first commander, Joseph Johnston, was wounded. . Although Lee had never commanded a battle, he had a passion for warfare, an imagination that allowed him to see a few moves ahead, a high energy level, and an unsurpassed knack in figuring out what his opponent would do; Lee outgeneraled all the federals until 1864, when Ulysses Grant was brought in to destroy him. Both armies trained and armed in earnest; there would be no more major fighting on the eastern front until May, 1862.
      footnote * Federals named battles after geographical landmarks, especially rivers or streams like Bull Run or Antietam Creek; the Confederates named the same battle after a settlement (Manassas Junction, Sharpsburg).

    13. 1861: Controlling the Border and the West
    14. In contrast to the unanimity of the lower seven southern states, the border slaves states were bitterly divided about secession. Border secessionists paid little attention to the slavery issue; they grew no cotton and lacked the South Carolinian dream of a slave-based empire oriented south toward the Caribbean. Rather their focus was on coercion: Lincoln's call to arms seemed a repudiation of the American traditions of states rights, democracy, liberty, and a republican form of government. Washington had usurped illegitimate powers in defiance of the Constitution, and thereby had lost its legitimacy. It was time to go; Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina seceded and joined the Confederacy after Ft Sumter. Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and Delaware, with much stronger ties to the North than to the South, were paralyzed. Kentucky tried to proclaim itself neutral. The Sumter crisis galvanized Washington, which immediately began a series of vigorous actions. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts regiments raced to protect Washington, and in the process seized control of Maryland. The major border slave cities of Washington, Baltimore, Wheeling, Louisville, Lexington and St. Louis came under Unionist control; Confederate sympathizers were driven out, disarmed, threatened, arrested and imprisoned without trial. With scarcely a fight the Confederacy lost control of 12 of the 34 slave cities, together with their railroads, docks, factories, shops, banks, churches and newspapers. (The North of course kept control of all its 98 cities.) Lincoln was alive to the necessity of controlling the border; he told one delegation that he hoped God was on his side, "but I must have Kentucky." In the confusion of the first weeks of the war, small units acting quickly proved decisive, and in every case they were federals. Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia were secured, as well as most of Missouri and half of Virginia. The western third of Virginia seceded from the state and joined the U.S.A. as the state of West Virginia. That radical move was possible because Union general George McClellan overpowered and outwitted rebel forces. The peace in Kentucky collapsed in September, as both sides invaded. Grant took western Kentucky for the Union, while Sherman assumed control in Louisville and Lexington. Lincoln won over Kentucky's economic and political elites by promising that the slaves of loyal owners would not be freed. Both sides vigorously recruited soldiers--sometimes with enemy encampments practically facing each other. Families divided, as men on one side (76,000 USA) or the other (25,000 CSA). Rebs soon had to move south (where they formed the "orphan brigade"*) because federal provost marshals and unionist judges systematically cracked down on the secessionist minority. "
      footnote * Benjamin Hardin Helm (West Point, 1851) was one of two Orphan Brigade generals killed in Confederate service. He was Lincoln's brother-in-law.
      Border cities had grown up where they were because they controlled the choke points of the communications network, such as the falls of the Ohio (Louisville) and the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers (St. Louis). Federal forces radiated out by river or railroad and easily controlled the hinterlands in the border. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad became vital to the federal logistics system. The Confederates were reduced to harassing tactics, like burning railroad trestles or sniping at riverboats. Throughout the war tens of thousands of Yankee soldiers were assigned to guard duty to protect against the sabotage and keep open the rail and river lines pointing south. The Confederacy tried a few unsuccessful raids, but only in remote mountainous areas where guerrillas and bushwhackers operated, could there be any permanent challenge to the Stars and Stripes.

    15. 1861: The War at Sea: Blockade and Diplomacy
    16. Four days after Sumter fell, Lincoln proclaimed economic warfare against the Confederacy. He ordered the Navy to blockade all southern ports, and stop both international trade and the short-distance coastal traffic. The challenge was overwhelming--the Navy had only 42 warships to control 3,500 miles of coastline, including scores of well-equipped ports, not to mention over 150 channels, inlets and rivers that could be used by ocean-going ships. The situation worsened when the commander of the federal navy yard at Norfolk panicked. He destroyed 10 of his 13 warships (instead of sailing them north) and left behind 1,200 cannon and 2,800 barrels of gunpowder that the rebels soon hauled to forts across their new country. Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles and his Assistant Secretary Gustavus Fox did a brilliant job in purchasing civilian ships, mounting a few guns, and sending them to war. They flooded northern shipyards with orders for new ships, including advanced technology designs with iron cladding (instead of wood), steam boilers and propellers (supplementing sails), and movable turrets with large-calibre rifled guns (to replace small smoothbores). When the sloop Tuscarora was launched at Philadelphia in August, 1861, Welles cracked that "Her keel was growing in the forest three months ago." By year's end the Navy had 170 ships in commission and 52 under construction. Amphibious landing forces in September seized the rebel forts that commanded the Carolina coastline. The Navy now had a forward base for its blockade squadrons.

      The blockade was ineffective before late summer of 1861; the south had ample opportunity to rush the export of its large cotton crop to Europe. Instead, in one of the most remarkable blunders of the war, a voluntary embargo dreamed up and acted upon by the planters, agents, shippers and government officials, kept most of the cotton at home. A central component of Confederate dreams had been the belief that "Cotton is King"-- that is, that the industrial base of New England, Britain, and France comprised textile factories that depended exclusively upon southern cotton. Cut off the supply, the argument went, and depression, unemployment and economic disaster will strike the enemy's New England heartland (neutralizing the Yankee industrial advantage). Even more important, cutting off cotton exports to Europe would send the economies there into a tailspin, generating irresistible demands for diplomatic recognition (leading to a negotiated peace) or even military intervention (leading to an outright Confederate victory.) The reasoning was all wrong--textile mills seen the crisis coming and built up a large stock of raw cotton; other sources (like Egypt, India and Mexico) made up most of the deficit in 1861. (Europe received 4.0 million bales that year from all sources, down only 10% from 1860). When the cotton famine did hit in late 1862 (as only 1.9 million bales were received), severe unemployment and destitution did hit the mill towns. The workers and manufacturers did not demand a war to break the blockade, not did anyone in Britain want a war on this issue. It was politically and militarily too late for intervention. London realized that Britain's food supply depended heavily on wheat imported from the US; the cotton deficit could be remedied just as well by a Union victory. Furthermore, the United States was an established legitimate government that clearly controlled its own territory; the Confederacy did not even control its own coastline. The Confederates were seen as rebels waving the discredited banner of human slavery; they had little or no sympathy in Europe.

      Intervention was a serious possibility if British or French leaders thought it was to their long-term advantage to have two antagonistic powers in North America to neutralize each other. Paris was building an empire in Mexico, with its puppet "Emperor" Maximilian propped up by French bayonets. Washington saw this as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, but avoided any confrontation until the war was over. * The French navy was building up ironclad strength, but not as fast as the US Navy.
      footnote After Appomattox, Washington sent tens of thousands of battle-hardened troops to the Mexican border. Paris finally pulled out; the Mexicans shot Maximilian. Richmond tolerated the French aggression. If somehow the Confederacy had become independent, it would have faced powerful enemies to its north and its south.
      Furthermore, the French people would never support such a war with the US, and if one broke out France might be attacked by Prussia (as happened in 1870). France would not move alone, but it would join Britain in a war. London, however, realized that the British people would never support such a war. Furthermore, the long-term economic prosperity of Britain depended on friendly commercial and financial ties with the US. Idle speculation about intervention always came crashing into the bottom line: Washington would declare war immediately on any nation that so much as exchanged ambassadors with Richmond. Not one nation did so; Confederate diplomats had only deuces to play.

      A grave blunder by the United States almost precipitated war with Britain in late 1861. On November 7, a US Navy warship under command of hotheaded Captain Charles Wilkes, intercepted on the high seas the "Trent," a British merchant ship steam making a routine run from Havana. After firing a shot across the bow, Wilkes sent heavily armed Marines aboard and seized two passengers aboard, James Mason and John Slidell, the Confederate ambassadors to London and Paris. Wilkes released the ship but took the prisoners to Boston, where he received a jubilant welcome as the hero of the hour. The seizure was a clear violation of Britain's rights as a neutral, and London protested vehemently. More practically, it drew up war plans, mobilized the Royal Navy, and sent 13,000 regulars to Canada. British strategists realized that in a war with the US, Canada would be quickly captured. The regiments were sent as a gesture, and as an indication Britain would win Canada back at the peace conference. The large, well-trained Royal Navy, now being rebuilt around heavily armed ironclads, was ready for a major fleet battle, as the American blockade squadrons were not. Should war break out, the British fleet would swoop down on the blockaders and sink or capture them. After that the fleet would sail into New York harbor and either capture Manhattan or at least close down the leading American city. New York could then be traded for Canada at the peace conference. The British war plans had a reasonable chance of success, especially if the French joined in. Their capabilities made known, the British invited Washington to negotiate the release of Mason and Slidell. Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward saw the danger. Thanks to the intervention of Queen Victoria's husband, a showdown was avoided. Although the seizure of the rebel diplomats had been wildly hailed in the States as a naval triumph and a tweak of the lion's tail, they were released and an apology was given London. The war scare passed.

    17. 1862: The War in Earnest

    18. Eastern Front: Lee's Great Victories;
      McClellan Reorganizes the Union Army

      Lincoln and his advisors were convinced in 1862 that they had mobilized enough troops and weapons to defeat the Confederates and capture Richmond. The longer it took, the more the skeptical the civilians became, and the more divisive the slavery issue became. Threatened with loss of support on the homefront, Lincoln pressured McClellan to hurry up and win. George McClellan was a brilliant organizer who lifted the Union army to a new height of efficiency in 1861-62. Like many West Pointers who graduated high in their class, he joined the engineers and then became a railroad man. Unlike the others, who went to West Point in the first place for its engineering training, McClellan was a warrior and a profound student of modern warfare. He recognized the value of the new transportation medium in meeting the logistics needs of 100,000 fighting soldiers camped in the countryside. Furthermore, he saw how the railroads could be used to rapidly move combat brigades toward the enemy's weak points. After observing first hand the inconclusive battles between Britain and Russia during the Crimean War, he concluded that the tactical balance had shifted away from the offensive infantry assault and in favor of the entrenched defense. He had captured West Virginia in 1861 by avoiding battle and turning the enemy lines: "
      No prospect of brilliant victory shall induce me to depart from my intention of gaining success by maneuvering rather than fighting. I will not throw there raw men of mine into the teeth of artillery and intrenchments if it is possible to avoid it. A direct assault would result in a heavy and unnecessary loss of life.

      Given command of Lincoln's largest force, the Army of the Potomac, the "Young Napoleon" (as fawning reporters nicknamed him), decided the best strategy was to thoroughly arm and train the men, build up abundant supplies, and outmaneuver Lee. He invariably believed inflated estimates of the enemy's strength. Lee, who understood him well and read the reports from McClellan headquarters carried in northern newspapers, set up a systematic disinformation scheme. Through multiple sources the Yankees received consistent overestimates of Lee's strength. Completely fooled, McClellan saw his great army as outnumbered and on the defensive. Therefore he concentrated his attention on training programs month in and month out, together with construction of an impregnable circle of forts around Washington that Lee could never breech. That was a major waste--not only did Lee have a smaller army, but he too realized the folly of attacking a fortified defensive position.

      Overcautious, McClellan refused to attack even when he had a decisive advantage. He drilled and marched, maneuvered and plotted endlessly, but always avoided a decisive battle. McClellan's most elaborate maneuver involved shipping the bulk of his army to a peninsula south of Richmond, then marching north to encircle the rebel capital. To divert the Yankees, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson took 15,000 infantry north into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley in May, 1862. In a dazzling display of military genius, he maneuvered, marched, and countermarched his "foot cavalry," hitting multiple Federal units that had been dispatched to bag this nuisance. In all Jackson tied down triple his own strength, captured food, horses and munitions, and gained an indelible reputation as the master of strategic maneuver. Back on the peninsula, Lee's army, travelling much lighter and with better field officers, proved much more nimble than McClellan's. The campaign climaxed in the "Seven Days" battles of June, 1862, in which the rebel lines held and everyone could see that Richmond was not about to be enveloped. No one ever outmaneuvered Lee. Frustrated, Lincoln replaced McClellan with John Pope, who would fight. "Success and glory are in the advance," he told his troops, "disaster and shame lurk in the rear." Pope, however, had a vulnerable rear, demonstrated when Jackson, marching 25,000 soldiers 50 miles in two days, raided Pope's main supply dump and cut his rail communications from behind. Then at Second Bull Run (Second Manassas, August 29, 1862), Pope threw his brave infantry heedlessly against Lee's entrenched lines. It was a hopeless fight, almost a massacre, as Lee again proved his genius on the battlefield. Both sides were quickly learning combat medicine. Clara Barton led the Yankee nurses into action:
      The men were brot down from the field and laid on the ground ...and so back up the hill 'till they covered acres. By midnight there must have been three thousand helpless men lying in that hay...All night we made compresses and slings--and bound up and wet wounds, when we could get water....

      Pope was sent to Minnesota. With political pressures escalating, and Lee threatening an invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania, Lincoln had to reinstate McClellan, who was more popular than ever with his troops--and, because he was so predictable, quite popular as well with Lee.

      Lee made mistakes too. The invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania with a smaller army was foolhardy from a military standpoint. The motivation was political: King Cotton had been dethroned and hopes for European intervention were fading unless some dramatic victories proved the survivability of the Confederacy. Time running out, as the vast northern industrial might was being mobilized for large-scale warfare just as the South was using up its last prewar stockpiles. Consequently Lee's purpose was to conduct a large scale raid that would liberate Confederate sympathizers in Maryland, liberate Yankee grain, hogs, cattle and horses, stiffen southern morale, undercut Yankee determination, and give a boost to the growing peace-at-any-price movement among northern Democrats. By coordinating Lee's invasion with a simultaneous invasion of Kentucky, Davis wanted to show the Yankees they were nowhere close to winning. Lee assumed his ragged warriors would be welcomed as liberators in Maryland; instead the populace hooted and hid their livestock, hardware. (Lee's quartermasters "bought" supplies with worthless Confederate script.) The greycoats were on best behavior; there were no atrocities. Lee was pushing his logistics system to the limit and beyond. Ten thousand stragglers were unable to continue on the march; their fighting spirit was intact but, barefoot and hungry, they could drag themselves only a couple miles a day. Lee was paying a heavy price for the weakness of his logistics system.

      Understrength, Lee boldly split his invasion force four ways in order to capture the 10,000 man garrison at Harper's Ferry, which contained desperately needed rifles. To Lee's surprise, McClellan (prodded by Lincoln) was moving in parallel. By sheer luck, a Hoosier private stumbled upon a lost copy of Lee's secret orders that showed how the Confederate forces were split. "Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home!" exulted McClellan. The Young Napoleon had to take the initiative; fearful of the humiliation of defeat, he pondered a day before he ordered his 16 divisions to move the ten miles that would take them into action. Too tardy. McClellan in utter disregard of basic security had read Lee's orders aloud before some civilians, one of whom snuck through the lines to inform Lee. The Confederate high command had a quicker response time, a surer intuition into how to move brigades about, an accurate notion of how weak they were, and a much keener sense that an error would doom their fledgling nation. The rebels had their share of luck; the incompetent Union commander at Harpers Ferry surrendered without a fight, enabling Lee to reassemble his divided army. Lee had figured out what moves McClellan would attempt, and revised his plans to meet the main federal attack at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Battle of Antietam was a mobile situation in which neither side had time to build defenses. McClellan outnumbered Lee 75,000 to 40,000, but his intelligence services had been tricked into reporting Lee with over 100,000.

      McClellan, having forfeited his intelligence coup, proceeded to bungle the tactics. He wasted his superior forces in piecemeal attacks left, right and center, which Lee countered by rushing his infantry brigades and artillery batteries from one hot spot to the next. Lee ran short of soldiers, and McClellan could have struck a decisive blow by sending in the six reserve brigades. Figuring incorrectly that Lee had hidden reserves, McClellan held back. The battle of Antietam was a draw--or more exactly, a bloody defeat for both sides. September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest day of American history: 6,000 dead, 17,000 wounded. Lee withdrew to Virginia. Lincoln, declaring victory, announced the Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederate invasion of Kentucky was likewise a failure, primarily because it was handicapped by too few soldiers, inadequate supplies, and an unexpected unwillingness of Kentuckians to rally behind the Stars and bars. After Jeb Stuart electrified rebel spirits by brazenly riding completely around the Army of the Potomac with 1200 cavalry, Lincoln realized McClellan would never defeat Lee and replaced him. Too bad, said Lee, "We always understood each other." Lincoln selected a series of less well-organized but more aggressive generals; Lee took their measure and whipped them one by one. At Fredericksburg, Yankee general Ambrose Burnside missed the chance to hit Lee's split forces. Instead he rashly hurled his infantry into a sunken road--a death trap--below Lee's impregnable rifles and cannon. Burnside lost 13,000 and Lee 5,300. Union fortunes were at their nadir--could no one outsmart Lee? In January, 1863, Lincoln tried Joseph Hooker, an angry man who talked of taking over the government. "Only those generals who gain success can set up dictators," Lincoln chided. "What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship." Lincoln's grasp of politics was sure; Hooker's generalship was another matter. He replicated Burnside's blunder at Chancellorsville on May 1-4, 1863. He lost his nerve as Stonewall Jackson's grizzled riflemen pushed forward; by fighting in dense forest Hooker forfeited his numerical advantages in infantry and artillery, and magnified the rebels' superior maneuvering skills. Hooker lost 17,000 casualties (1600 killed) and his dictatorship; he was sent West in a subordinate role. Lee, however, lost another 1600 dead--most of them battle-hardened veterans, including his irreplaceable corps commander, Stonewall Jackson (killed by friendly fire.)

    19. Western Front: Emergence of Grant: Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee
    20. In dramatic contrast to the small confines of the Virginia theater, the war in the west extended for hundreds of miles across many states. Washington and Richmond were both fixated on the battles raging nearby, and neglected the west. The commanders out there consequently exercised far more latitude for large movement and independent action. In contrast to the east, the federals demonstrated superior generalship. Henry Halleck, author of a famous textbook on tactics, was in command during the critical moves of 1861-62 (and then was brought to Washington as chief of staff, handling the Army's paperwork.) While Lee was winning most of the time in Virginia, Ulysses Grant, William Sherman and George Thomas usually carried the day in the west. Their overall strategy was to control rebel territory and especially lines of communications, especially the main rivers-- the Cumberland (in Kentucky and Tennessee), the Tennessee (in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama), and above all the Mississippi. The key move in the west came in February, 1862, when Grant brilliantly used his infantry and Navy gunships to surround forts Henry and Donelson. The rebel commander General Simon B. Bucker asked for terms; "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender," replied Grant as he bagged 12,000 prisoners and took control of the Cumberland and the Tennessee rivers, and thereby most of the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, and a portion of northern Alabama as well. Nashville was the first rebel state capital to fly the Stars and Stripes. The advantage of the territorial strategy was that it stopped the flow of food, fodder, animals, and recruits into the Confederate system. The disadvantage was that it tied down half the Union army in static defensive garrisons scattered throughout the border region. Worse, strong fast-moving Confederate attack armies could and frequently did seize these strongpoints and capture their garrisons. Furthermore, the railroads, rivers and roads linking these garrisons together were vulnerable to cavalry raids and guerrilla attacks.

      Grant's next mission was to move into northern Mississippi and capture the rebel base at Corinth. He waited at Pittsburg Landing with 39,000 soldiers for General Don Carlos Buell to arrive with 36,000 reinforcements. Grant did not fortify his positions, because it would weaken morale and, anyway, the rebellion was on its last legs and its armies were disintegrating. As the soldiers were lining up for breakfast, not far from Shiloh Church, on Sunday, April 6, 1862, 40,000 Confederates struck. Albert Sidney Johnston, a highly experienced officer who was in command in the west, had the advantage of surprise but failed to keep his columns straight, and the attack turned into a confusing melee. Three federal divisions were forced back--they might have been routed if the rebels had not paused to loot. Johnston and his generals could not coordinate their 71 regiments; Grant handled his 74 well, showing icy coolness in the face of disaster. The key to the battle of Shiloh was control of the "Hornet's Nest" in the center, held by 6,000 infantrymen in Prentiss's division. Johnston was killed by a sniper, and the new commander, P.G.T. Beauregard, sent a dozen unsuccessful attacks into the Hornet's Nest then massed 62 cannon at point-blank range. Two hours' worth of grape and canister finally forced Prentiss to surrender his 2,200 survivors. The delaying action gave Grant enough time to organize his defenses and bring his artillery to bear. Beauregard broke off the attack at 6 (night battles were very rare), and tried to get his chain of command working. That night Buell's troops arrived and Grant threw them into action at dawn. Blue and Gray seesawed across the wooded battlefield throughout the morning, then, overwhelmed by numbers and Grant's relentless pressure, they fell back. The Federals were too exhausted to pursue in force. Each side lost 1,700 killed and over 8,000 wounded at Shiloh--a stunning demonstration to two nations that they had engaged in a bloody war.

      To coordinate with Lee's invasion of Maryland, the Confederacy sent Braxton Bragg with 30,000 and Kirby Smith with 10,000 marching north into Kentucky in August. The expected a warm reception because numerous pro-Confederate guerrilla bands, augmented by occasional cavalry raids by John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forest, had long been attacking Union railroads, telegraph lines, bridges, riverboats, and small garrisons throughout Tennessee and Kentucky. Bushwhackers and guerrillas on both sides plundered and assassinated their political (and personal) enemies. Ignoring heavily guarded Nashville, Bragg and Kirby Smith mauled 6,000 troops defending Richmond, captured a million dollars worth of supplies in Lexington, forced 4,000 defenders to surrender at Munfordville, and converged on Cincinnati. The populace did not rally to the invaders; a mere 2,500 sympathizers joined the rebel armies. However the invading army did capture 15,000 rifles, 2 million cartridges, fifty cannon, and 2,000 head of cattle, and found the civilians had hidden most of the livestock and shop goods. "Plenty of socks and drawers," complained one barefoot rebel shopping (with Confederate script) in Lexington stores, "but nary a shoe!" Cincinnati a supply center for the western forces, was the ultimate prize; its defender, Lew Wallace, explained:
      Here is the material of war--goods, groceries, salt, supplies, machinery, and so on--enough to restock the whole bogus Confederacy. "

      Storekeepers, artisans and teachers, along with many blacks, rushed to barricade the approaches; a ring of forts was built in the Kentucky suburbs, and ten miles of trenches. Militia volunteers poured in from every direction. Steamboats were fitted with guns. Cincinnati dry goods would cost dear. Realizing they would never capture that metropolis, Bragg shifted his Confederates toward Louisville, another major supply depot but not so well defended. The North got the jitters, the more so as the Santee Sioux nation rose up and slaughtered 800 farmers in Minnesota.* Union armies (55,000 strong) under Buell and Thomas
      footnote * The Minnesota state militia whipped Little Crow at the battle of Wood Lake, capturing 1,500 braves. A military court sentenced 307 to death; Lincoln pardoned all but 38, who were then hung.
      raced north from Alabama and Tennessee to intercept the invaders. Bragg, despite his strong position, pleaded exhaustion on the part of his soldiers; he lacked grit in a crisis. He refused to attack CIncinnati, Louisville or Buell's federals. Buell, a superb organizer but indifferent fighter, circled around the Confederates to reach Louisville first. There he assembled Federal reinforcements and sent three army corps south by forced marches to find and destroy Bragg. The two armies met at Perryville in fierce hand-to-hand combat. J. A. Bruce, a Tennessean, wrote his brother:
      I was not in the fight very long, only fired five rounds before I was shot down. We had nearly reached a [Yankee artillery] battery we were charging at the time. A ball struck my clothes lightly, one went through my coat sleeve, one through my coat pocket, one took off my cartridge box, one went through my haversack, and the next one brought me down while in the act of loading. It struck me in the thigh and I dropped my gun and walked about twenty yards and then commenced to crawl.

      Both sides were bloodied, but Bragg, having failed in the strategic objective of uniting Kentucky to the Confederacy, fled back to Tennessee. Short of transport, he had to leave behind hundreds of his wounded and most of his precious captured cattle. The Kentucky Unionists, finally free from invasion, began to systematically track down and arrest (and often hang) the rebel guerrillas. The civil war in Kentucky continued long after the armies marched away. The violent heritage of feuds between warring Unionist (Republican) and Confederate (Democratic) clans, often escalating into bushwhacking and deliberate political assassination continued for another generation.

    21. 1862: Home Fronts
    22. Scenes of enthusiasm in 1861 gave way in 1862 to calculation. Northern factories hummed with orders for uniforms, wagons, rifles and harnesses, and longshoremen unloaded ships full of munitions from abroad. A thousand miles of new railroad track was laid, and hundreds of new factories and mills opened for business. The total output of farms increased even as two hundred thousand farmers donned blue uniforms. Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs did a brilliant job in ensuring that the abundance of the rich Yankee economy was delivered on time and in quantity to the brigades that needed it. The South had few factories to begin with, and her ports were largely closed. Many plantations switched from cotton to foodstuffs, so the total food supply was still adequate. The new nation did have Josiah Gorgas, a poor boy from Pennsylvanian who graduate West Point in 1841, married a southern belle, and became chief of the Ordnance Bureau in Richmond. He performed miracles in establishing a network of new factories, repair shops, sewing rooms, gunpowder mills and arsenals throughout the Confederacy. The Confederacy managed to produce 2,200 cannon (about one fourth the North's production). More than half were made by the 2,500 employees and slaves at Richmond's Tredegar Iron Works, operated something like a plantation by Joseph Anderson (West Point class of 1836). The grayclads in the front lines had rifles, but always were short of food, coffee, ammunition, boots, medicine, wagons and horses.

      The Republicans in Washington had a vision of an industrial nation, with great cities, efficient factories, productive farms, and high speed rail links. They wrote an elaborate program of economic modernization that had the dual purpose of winning the war and permanently transforming the economy. The tariff act of 1862 served not only to raise revenue, but also to encourage the establishment of factories free from British competition. Land grants went to railroad construction companies to open up the western plains and link up to California. Together with the free lands provided farmers by the Homestead Law, the low-cost farm lands provided by the land grants speeded up the expansion of commercial agriculture. The North's most important war measure was perhaps the creation of a system of national banks that provided a sound currency for the industrial expansion. Even more important, the hundreds of new banks that were allowed to open were required to purchase government bonds. Thereby the nation monetized the potential wealth represented by farms, urban buildings, factories, and businesses, and immediately turned that money over to the Treasury for war needs. The Confederacy by contrast bankrupted its financial institutions by flooding the South with paper money that was not backed by real wealth or by a workable system of taxes. The basic philosophy of the Confederacy was that patriotic families should sacrifice their wealth for their new nation. Many did so, and became impoverished in the process. The philosophy in the North was it was profitable to be patriotic--to buy war bonds, to start a new bank, to bid on a war contract.

      The decision to destroy slavery was a fateful one for Lincoln and the Republican Party in 1862. Still denying the reality of Confederate nationalism, they had concluded that the rich, arrogant slave owners were entirely at fault for the rebellion. They controlled the Richmond government, and officered the rebel army. To defeat the enemy it was essential to defeat its main source of strength--the system of slavery. The plight of the black slaves themselves was a concern for some of the Republicans, but not the primary motivation. The advantages in arming tens of thousands of black soldiers were unclear in 1862. There was no doubt however, that the decision to declare emancipation ripped apart the fabric of the North's political system, as the majority of Democrats repudiated the war effort, refused to enlist, and redoubled their efforts to defeat the Republicans. They scored important successes in the 1862 elections, which were largely a referendum on emancipation. The Republicans, however, continued to control the national government, the military, and most state governments. They also controlled most business and financial institutions everywhere in the North. The worst fear of the white south was a slave insurrection, and the Emancipation Proclamation appeared to be a clear warning that was coming. In actual practice, slaves ran away from their masters whenever Union armies approached (assuming their masters had not already transported them further south). There were no slave insurrections, no uprisings. But there was the even deeper fear of racial equality. Southern whites (and probably most northerners too) were strongly convinced that the black race was morally inferior to them. The Confederate position was that unending resistance was the only way to block emancipation and the systematic degradation of the white race.

    23. 1862: Conclusion
    24. After the feints and maneuvers of the first year, the fighting began in earnest with bloody battles in Tennessee and Virginia. The Yankees held the advantage in the western fighting, but the attention of the two nations was riveted on Virginia, where the decision was expected momentarily. Lee managed to trick the Yankees into estimating he had twice as many soldiers as existed--and then by proving on the battlefield that each rebel could fight like two. By the end of 1862, the Navy had put a stranglehold on the South's coastline, and had captured critical bases along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. With its vastly superior fleet of riverboats, the Federals were seizing one river system after another. The enormous industrial potential of the North was finally being mobilized for total warfare, while the South was rapidly consuming its last supplies. The war took on a new ideological twist late in 1862 as Lincoln proclaimed the emancipation of the slaves--an act that overnight created a second front in northern public opinion as the Democratic party turned against the war. With the possibility of European intervention fading, the South would have to turn to its inner resources to continue the fight for independence.

    25. Appendix: Blockading The Confederacy
    26. Blockade stations were the most boring job in the war-- but also the most attractive. The task was for the fleet to sail back and forth to intercept any blockade runners. Ordinary ships were too slow and visible to escape the Navy. The South therefore had to rely on 200 new ships built in England with low profiles, shallow draft and high speed. Their paddle-wheels, driven by steam engines that burned smokeless anthracite coal, could make 17 knots. Since the South lacked sailors, skippers and shipbuilding capability, the runners were built and partly manned by Britons. Private British investors spent perhaps 50 million pounds on the runners ($250 million in US dollars, equivalent to about $2.5 billion in 2000 dollars). The pay was amazingly high: a Royal Navy officer on leave might earn several thousand dollars (in gold) in salary and bonus per round trip, with ordinary seamen getting several hundred dollars. On dark nights they ran the gauntlet to and from the British islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas, or Havana, Cuba, (Spanish), 500-700 miles away. They carried several hundred tons of compact, high-value cargo--such as cotton, turpentine or tobacco outbound, and rifles, medicine, brandy, lingerie and coffee inbound. They charged from $300 to $1000 per ton of cargo brought in; two round trips a month would generate perhaps $250,000 in revenue (and $80,000 in wages and expenses). In November, 1864, a wholesaler in Wilmington asked his agent in the Bahamas to stop sending so much chloroform; please send instead "essence of cognac" because that perfume would sell "quite high." Confederate patriots held "Rhett Butler" and the other nouveau riche blockade runners in contempt for profiteering on luxuries while Lee's soldiers were in rags. On the other hand, their bravery and initiative was necessary for the nation's survival, and many women in the back country flaunted imported $10 gew gaws and $50 hats as patriotic proof that the damnyankees had failed to isolate them from the outer world. Richmond eventually regulated the traffic, requiring half the imports to be munitions; it even purchased and operated some runners on its own account, and made sure they loaded vital war goods. By 1864 Lee's soldiers were eating imported meat.

      Blockade running was reasonably safe for both sides. It was not illegal under international law; captured foreign sailors were released, while Confederates went to prison camps. The ships were unarmed (cannon would slow them down), so they posed no danger to the Navy warships. The Union fleet grew in size, speed and sophistication, and more and more ports came under Federal control. After 1862, only three ports--Wilmington (North Carolina), Charleston (South Carolina) and Mobile (Alabama)-- remained open for the 75 to 100 blockade runners in business. Charleston was shut down by Admiral John Dahlgren's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in 1863. Mobile Bay was captured in August, 1864, by Admiral David Farragut (tied to the rigging of his flagship, he cried out, "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!"). Runners faced an increasing risk of capture--in 1861 and 1862, one sortie in 9 ended in capture; in 1863 and 1864, one in 3; by war's end, imports had been choked to a trickle as the risk of capture soared to 50% per sortie. Some 1,100 blockade runners were captured (and another 300 destroyed) in the most effective blockade the world had ever seen. British investors frequently made the mistake of reinvesting their profits in the trade; when the war ended they were stuck with useless ships and rapidly depreciating cotton. In the final accounting, perhaps half the investors took a profit, and half a loss. "

      Blockade service was attractive to seamen and landsmen alike. Over 50,000 volunteered for the boring duty, because food and living conditions on ship were much better than the infantry offered, it was safer, and especially because of the real (albeit small) chance for big money. Captured ships and their cargoes were sold at auction and the proceeds split among the sailors. When the USS Aeolus seized the hapless Hope off Wilmington in late 1864, the captain won $13,000, the chief engineer $6,700, the seamen over $1,000 each, and the cabin boy $533. Rather better than infantry pay of $13 a month for the lucky sailors. While the little Alligator sold for only $50, bagging the Memphis in a morning's work was like winning the lottery--it brought in $510,000 (about what 40 civilian workers could earn in a lifetime of work.) In four years, $25 million in prize money was awarded. The Union blockade not only stopped cotton exports, it choked off munitions imports as well. The measure of the blockade's success was not the few ships that slipped through, but the thousands that never tried it. Ordinary freighters stopped calling at southern ports. The interdiction of coastal traffic meant that long-distance travel depended on the rickety railroad system, which never overcame the devastating impact of the blockade. The blockade caused other hardships as well, especially the maldistribution of food. Throughout the war the South produced enough food for civilians and soldiers, but it had growing difficulty in moving surpluses to areas of scarcity and famine. Lee's army, at the end of the supply line, always went short. Occasional bread riots in Richmond and other cities showed that patriotism was not sufficient to satisfy the demands of housewives. Land routes remained open for cattle drovers, but after the Federals seized control of the Mississippi River in summer 1863, it became impossible to ship horses, cattle and swine from Texas and Arkansas to the eastern Confederacy. Never had a major seacoast been so completely shut down; never before had a navy solved the challenge of numbers, vigilance, discipline and replenishment. The blockade was a triumph of the US Navy, and a major factor in winning the war.

      Part Two 1863-65 of this Essay

      more of Jensen's Civil War Guides
      copyright 2001 by Richard Jensen