Civil War Part 2, 1863-65

by Richard Jensen
Professor of History Emeritus, University of Illinois, Chicago
revised November, 2002

  • 1863-5 Failure of the Confederate Home Front
  • Blacks in The Army
  • 1863: The East: Gettysburg
  • 1863: The West: Vicksburg and Chattanooga
  • 1864: Simultaneous Attacks: The Strategy
  • Grant Tries Attrition
  • 1864: Politics and Attrition Warfare in Virginia
  • 1864: Sherman Takes Atlanta
  • 1864: Sherman's March Through Georgia and South Carolina
  • Mobilizing for Total War
  • Hospitals and Relief
  • 1865: The End

  • Part One 1861-62 of this Essay by Jensen; Part Two 1863-65 of this Essay (what you are reading now)

  • Civil War links by Jensen

    1863-5 Failure of the Confederate Home Front

    After two years of warfare, the North finally was mobilizing its economy full steam, while the South had crested and was falling back. General Sherman, the most acute observer of the war, had predicted this development exactly even before Sumter, telling a rebel acquaintance:

    The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical an 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. . . . At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, and shut out from the markets of Europe by blockade as you will be, your cause will begin to wane.

    The blockade squeezed the southern economy into a downward spiral; it shrank by 40 to 50%. The hardships of Confederate civilians was greatly mitigated by the fact that eight in ten lived on farms, and with little chance of selling tobacco, much good land and slave labor was switched to food production. Shortages of coffee annoyed everyone, while a severe shortage of salt made the preservation of meat a major headache. The breakdown of the commissary and transportation systems kept the army hungry. Richmond lacked the managerial skills needed to move food from where it was still abundant. Each rebel army learned to raid the countryside for food, fodder, wood, horses and mules, until they had stripped friendly territory bare. As early as the 1862 harvest season, Sergeant Robert Smith, of the Second Tennessee division, reported that his regiment had been given only one pound of flour each to last the next three days, and had gobbled it up. "They will have to live on parched [boiled] corn, wall-nuts & acorns for the next two days--rather hard living." The soldiers joked that the war was between the

    "Feds" and the "Cornfeds." By spring 1863 poor quality rations, high in calories but low in vitamins and meat, had become the norm. The Army of the Tennessee fed its 50,000 troops every day with 35,000 pounds of bacon, 88,000 pounds of corn meal, 3,500 pounds of rice, 520 gallons of molasses, and a small river of ersatz "coffee" made from corn meal. The troops grumbled that warriors needed red meat to fight well, but they chewed their rancid bacon and soldiered on. Every few months standard rations were cut; more sugar, lesancid bacon and soldiered on. Every few months standard rations were cut; more sugar, less beef. Vegetables became rarities, though one week some boxcars of tomatoes from Florida provided a special treat. Nutritional deficiencies kept the sick and wounded incapacitated for longer periods, caused scurvy, and may have produced the night blindness that handicapped the defenders in at least one battle. In winter, when battles were rare, the Confederate army sent thousands of soldiers home to allow them to work on their farm or in munitions factories; more would have been sent but the railroads could not handle them. The Confederate medical system, scarcely able to cope with battlefield casualties, routinely sent lightly injured men home temporarily. "The boys regard a severe wound now as equivalent to a furlough, and whenever one is wounded they say he has got a furlough for thirty, sixty or ninety days as the wound may be slight, severe, or serious."

    The decaying infrastructure of the South negated the Confederacy's advantage of interior lines of communications. The US Navy commanded the high seas and every major river. To maintain mobility over the vast western distances, the quartermasters had to feed the workhorses, mules and cavalry mounts large amounts of forage (ten pounds a day each of corn and hay), which filled the available wagons and railroad cars. Lee's horses in Virginia were on half rations, and could hardly pull their caissons, guns and wagons. The life expectancy of an army horse was a matter of weeks, and Lee could not replenish his losses while the Federals were increasingly well mounted as the war went on. Union cavalry, distinctly inferior in 1861-62, was much superior by 1864.

    SHut off from its own river system, the Confederate lifeline became its few overburdened railroads. In September, 1863, Lee outwitted the Yankees by shipping Longstreet's elite First Corps from the Virginia front to Chickamauga (on the Tennessee-Georgia state line, south of Chattanooga); the goal was to give Bragg a sudden numerical advantage over Rosecrans' Yankees. Movement by sea was of course impossible, and the direct route of 500 miles across the mountains had been cut. Eight brigades totaling 12,000 soldiers therefore made a roundabout 965 mile rail journey in 10-16 days. They traversed eleven different railroads, each with different gauge (width) tracks, so it was impossible to use the same cars. As one staff officer recalled:

    Never before were so many troops moved over such worn-out railways. Never before were such crazy cars--passenger, baggage, mail, coal, box, platform, all and every sort wobbling on the jumping strap iron--used for hauling good soldiers. But we got there nonetheless.*

    * Lacking solid iron rails, none of which were made or imported during the war, the southerners nailed thin straps of iron to wooden rails.

    Not quite. The rebel artillery and 4,500 infantry arrived too late for the battle of Chickamauga. Bragg therefore had inadequate reserves to clinch success when Longstreet's veterans burst through the Union lines. What might have been a smashing victory became just another bloody morale builder for the Confederates--it proved to be their last major victory in the west. The Yankees regained numerical advantage when Lincoln reinforced Rosecrans with 20,000 men from the Virginia front; they circled round some 1,200 miles over superior Union railroads in one-third less time.

    By 1864 Grant and Sherman realized the weakest point of the armies opposing them was the decrepitude of the southern infrastructure and deliberately sought to wear it down. Cavalry raids were the favorite device, with instructions to ruin destroy railroads (by twisting their rails) and burn bridges. Sherman's insight was deeper. He focused on the trust the rebels had in their Confederacy as a living nation, and he set out to destroy that trust. "I propose to demonstrate the vulnerability of the South, and make its inhabitants feel that war and ruin are synonymous terms." It took a while to secure the approval of Lincoln and Grant, for Sherman's stunningly bold plan was to ignore the Confederate army and strike instead at the Confederate nation. Sherman's "March To the Sea," from Atlanta to Savannah in fall, 1864, burned and broke and ruined every part of the industrial, commercial, transportation and agricultural infrastructure it touched. The actual damage shoukld not be damaged, for Sherman confined himself to a swath of territory totaling about 15% of the single state of Georgia. Much more important than the twisted rails, smoldering main streets, dead cattle, burning barns and ransacked houses was the bitter realization among rebel civilians and soldiers throughout the remaining Confederacy that if they persisted, sooner or later their homes and communities would receive the same treatment. Sherman, who had been deeply involved in the Seminole War, knew that the way to defeat Indians was to strike at their villages and especially their food supply, and that winter campaigns especially effective. Maybe the same strategy would work now. Thus Sherman struck at Georgia in October, November and December, and while Grant and Lee were in quiet winter quarters in the next three months, Sherman's army moved north through the Carolinas in a campaign even more devastating than the March Through Georgia.

    Blacks in The Army

    The recruitment of black soldiers was just as controversial as emancipation itself. Over 180,000 joined segregated units in the US Army and a few thousand joined integrated crews in the Navy. In the North the free black community vigorously recruited young men until enthusiasm fell off when Washington decided to pay the blacks $3 less a month than whites. Reports of low enrollments, poor discipline, and even mutinies troubled Lincoln, who felt since blacks "had larger motives for being soldiers than white men...they ought to be willing to enter the service on any condition." The soldiers were used primarily to perform fatigue and construction chores, and to guard bridges, forts and Freedmen's camps containing many of the 600,000 or so slaves liberated by the advancing armies. Except for 100 black junior officers, the 7,000 officers in xx black regiments were whites who had been carefully screened. The first officer candidate school was established to train experienced white sergeants to become lieutenants in the "Colored Volunteers." Grant told Lincoln that emancipating and arming the blacks

    is the heaviest blow yet given the Confederacy.... By arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion they strengthen us.

    At first treated as inferior socially and militarily, eventually the black soldiers won the grudging admiration of many of their white comrades. The peace Democrats excited large audiences by warning that white men were now dying in order to equalize a lower race. The Republicans counterattacked with the rebuttal that "Copperheads" were cowards for refusing to enlist, traitors for sympathizing with the enemy, and inferior in citizenship to the blacks who were fighting for their country. "You say you will not fight to free negroes," Lincoln snapped. "Some of them seem willing to fight for you."

    The Confederacy was outraged at the arming of their slaves, and threatened to reenslave or execute them when captured. They desisted when Lincoln vowed retaliation. However, the refusal of Richmond to allow black Union prisoners to be exchanged for Confederate prisoners brought an end to all prisoner exchanges in 1863. This condemned thousands of prisoners both sides on to slow death in poorly supplied camps like Andersonville, where disease and starvation took 13,000 of the 45,000 Yankees. Southern prisoners in Chicago and other norther camps fared a little better, but thousands died ofs died of exposure and disease.

  • Professor Rufus B. Richardson's article in the New Englander for Nov. 1880 Confederates and black Union soldiers fought each other with special ferocity. No mercy was shown; prisoners were few. At Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in April, 1864, frenzied Confederates slaughtered hundreds of blacks soldiers who were not allowed to surrender. "Remember Ft. Pillow" became a black war cry. Rhodes on Ft. Pillow, with links.

    Paradoxically, the Confederacy finally realized it needed more blacks in its army. In 1864, the Army of Tennessee replaced white support soldiers (including cooks and construction crews) with blacks and reassigned them to combat units. General Joseph Johnston estimated this reform added 25% to his fighting force. When General Patrick Cleburne went one step further and recommended the black auxiliaries be armed and used as combat troops, an intense controversy arose. Arming the slaves would require eventual emancipation and the doom of slavery--but many Confederate nationalists saw it as the only way to preserve their new nation. Finally in early 1865, Lee insisted on having black combat units, and the Richmond government agreed. The Confederacy began to raise and train black regiments in March, 1865; they never saw combat, but the episode demonstrates that the Confederacy was in the end willing to abandon slavery to preserve its independence.

    The quality of black performance in combat was a hotly debated subject. Black regiments fought in 39 major engagements, most notably Ft. Wagner, the Crater, Olustee (all US defeats), New Market Heights (a very bloody success) and Nashville (a US triumph). Critics, motivated by racist distrust of black soldiers, emphasized how the blacks had broken and run in each battle. Charles Francis Adams, Jr. grandson of a president and colonel of the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry, was shocked at the disaster at the Crater, near Petersburg, Virginia in July, 1864. Pennsylvania soldiers who were ex-coal miners had secretly placed 8,000 pounds of gunpowder underneath the Confederate front line. The tremendous explosion killed nine companies of South Carolinians, and blew up four guns commanded by Colonel William Pegram. The rebels were disoriented and helpless for half an hour. But when three white divisions and a black one tried to attack, they stupidly entered the huge crater, 30 feet deep and 60 feet wide. They panicked, could not get out, and were massacred; casualties were 40%. "A few of our men were wounded by the negroes which exasperated them very much," Pegram (age 23) told his sister. "As soon as we got upon them, they threw down their arms to surrender, but were not allowed to do so." Pegram boasted that scores of blacks who managed to become prisoners were immediately executed. "It seems cruel to murder them in cold blood, but I think the men who did it had very good cause for doing has a splendid effect on our men."* Adams decided

    * James I. Robertson, ed. "'The Boy Artillerist: Letters of Colonel William Pegram, C.S.A.," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 98 (April 1990), 243-44. The "very good cause" was to deter the dreaded threat of slave revolts back home.


    the fiasco proved, "That the negro was wholly unfit for cavalry service, lacking absolutely the essential qualities of alertness, individuality, reliability, and self-reliance." On the other hand sympathizers praised the fighting spirit with which they had attacked in the first place, and blamed the retreats and disasters on white units. A black brigade did well at Nashville (December, 1864). It retreated there too, but this time the rebels totally fell apart. Col Thomas Jefferson Morgan, the brigade commander, hailed its "record of coolness, bravery, manliness. . . . A new chapter in the history of liberty has been written." As black editor Frederick Douglass had predicted in 1863,

    t to citizenship.

    In the final tally, blacks accounted for 2.2% of the 6.4 million soldier-years served in the US Army, 15.7% of the 186,000 deaths by disease, 2.2% of the 34,200 severe nonfatal gunshot wounds, and 3.3% of the 78,200 deaths in combat. To their own surprise, some white soldiers learned to appreciate the presence of the black troops, and worked hard to convince their civilian relatives that the equality policy was indeed a good idea.

    1863: The East: Gettysburg

    The turning point of the Civil War had come in September, 1862, with the twin failures of Lee's invasion of Maryland and Bragg's invasion of Kentucky. Foreign intervention had gone a glimmering, and while the peace Democrats did carry New York state in the 1862 fall election for governor, the prowar Republicans retained control of all other large states as well as the federal government. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, announced after Antietam, took effect on January 1, 1863; its anniversary would soon become a day of celebration for the black community. Emancipation stiffened Confederate resistance; to them the war was now a quest for independence, a defense of their homes, and a war between the races all rolled into one. They fought ferociously, the more so as their supplies ran thin and reinforcements became scarcer. Victory would not come cheap. Lincoln lavished equipment and manpower building the Army of the Potomac into "the finest army on the planet." Lee nevertheless continued his mastery over faltering Union generals, especially at Chancellorsville, until he made one major miscalculation. Confusing peace rhetoric for northern public opinion, assuming the Yankees must be just as war weary as southerners, and frightfully short of supplies for his army, Lee planned another full-scale raid into the North--Pennsylvania this time. He figured:

    If we can baffle them [Yankees] in their various designs this year & our people are true to our cause...our success will be certain.... [and] next year there will be a great change in public opinion at the North. The Republicans will be destroyed [in the 1864 presidential election] & I think the friends of peace will become so strong as that the next administration will go in on that basis. We have only therefore to resist manfully.

    Lee's invasion and his seizure of free blacks, who were shipped south and sold into slavery, had the unintended effect of mobilizing northern Republicans and tarring the peace Democrats as traitorous "Copperheads" who refused even to resist the invasion of their homes. Antiwar protests occasionally turned into riots, which further antagonized the patriots, for as one Wisconsin private wrote his sweetheart, "I hope if they do have to take soldiers home to enforce the draft that I will be the one who will have to go, for I could shoot one of those copperheads with a good heart as I could shoot a wolf."

    Hooker, commanding the Army of the Potomac, was, as Lee had calculated, indeed tardy and afraid to fight Lee. He wanted to attack Richmond, but Lincoln vetoed that idea as impossible of success and replaced Hooker with George Meade. The new commander brooked no delay in chasing the rebels north. Lee underestimated his new foe, expecting him to be a day late and a division short, like Hooker. Lee was blinded for a week by the failure of Jeb Stuart's cavalry to provide timely reconnaissance. "Where on earth is my cavalry?" he kept asking every day. In fact Stuart was miles away sacking a mule-drawn supply train,* while Meade was close behind, and had cut off the line of retreat back to Virginia. Lee had to fight, but first he had to rush to reassemble his scattered forces at the crossroads town of Gettysburg before Meade defeated them piecemeal. Lee had 60,000 infantry and 10,200 cavalry (Meade's intelligence officers estimated Lee had 140,000). Would this be enough to challenge the United States on its home ground? This time it was Lee's turn to be fooled; he gullibly swallowed misinformation that suggested Meade had twice as many soldiers, when in fact he had 86,000.

  • detailed histories of battle of Gettysburg

    Even though the main Confederate army was marching through Pennsylvania, Lincoln was unable to give Meade more firepower. The vast majority of the 700,000 Federal soldiers (except for Grant's 70,000) were noncombatants, held static defensive posts that Lincoln feared to uncover, or like Rosecrans at Nashville, they were afraid to move. Urgently the President called for 100,000 civilian militiamen to turn out for the emergency; some did, but being unorganized, untrained, unequipped and poorly led, they were more trouble than worth. Lee was overconfident of the morale and equipment of his "invincible" veterans; he fantasized about a definitive war-winning triumph:

    They will come up...broken down with hunger and hard marching, strung out on a long line and much demoralized when they come into Pennsylvania. I shall throw an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, drive one corps back on another, and by successive repulses and surprises, before they can concentrate, create a panic and virtually destroy the army. [Then] the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence.

    * Stuart had trouble finding Lee; he solved his intelligence problem by swiping a Philadelphia newspaper that accurately reported Lee's location. The news was a day old, however, and Stuart, slowed down by booty, did not arrive at Gettysburg until July 2. The Confederates were often aided by uncensored newspaper reports of the movements of Union forces. Reporter Horace White was angry when his editor tried to censor his reports; he would not "sacrifice so many good things because they happen to be true." The Army temporarily shut down several newspapers for publishing false news which adversely affected public morale. Voluntary censorship by the media proved successful in later wars.


    The Battle of Gettysburg unfolded over three days, July 1-3, 1863. The rebels, who had entered Gettysburg looking for a warehouse of shoes, unexpectedly encountered Yankee cavalry. John Reynolds, a brilliant commander who had refused Lincoln's offer of command of the Army of the Potomac, directed infantry brigades forward to replace the lightly armed dismounted cavalry (acting as infantry) holding Seminary Ridge just west of the town. Suddenly he fell from his saddle, dead by a sharpshooters bullet. The Yankees fell back to Cemetery Hill south of town and dug in overnight; they been whipped the first day because they were badly outnumbered, 25,000 to 19,000. With 5,000 Federals captured, and 4,500 more killed or wounded, Gettysburg Day One seemed to be a reprise of Lee's triumphs at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The battle had just begun. Meade did not retreat to lick his wounds and blame his subordinates; he poured in reinforcements and took a strong defensive position. His fishhook-shaped defensive line stretched two miles from Little Round Top in the south to Culp's Hill in the north, then jutted eastward another mile. (See map) Lee's advisors warned against a frontal assault, but he knew the Confederacy was desperate. It had to win a decisive battle in the North, or else be rejected abroad and systematically ground to death. The Federals had the more compact position with better communication and better opportunity to move forces from one danger spot to another. Meade's forces were atop small ridges with gentle slopes that angled just enough to provide an advantage to the defenders shooting downward. The Yankees had more soldiers and more artillery--and more spirit, for now it was they who were defending their homes, and the rebels who were invaders. "Our men are three times as enthusiastic as they have been in Virginia.... The idea that Pennsylvania is invaded and that we are fighting on our own soil proper, influences them strongly." Despite the enemy's advantages, Lee had to attack and win, or risk losing his entire army and the Confederacy itself.

    So large and complex was Gettysburg that Lee and Meade could not control all the action; their corps and division commanders were in charge. Often colonels had to make vital decisions on the spot, without consulting their superiors. With vicious hand-to-hand fighting late in the second afternoon, the Confederates captured the "Devil's Den" a rock-strewn jumble of large boulders. In the melee, "Every fellow was his own general," a Texan recalled. "Private soldiers gave commands as loud as the officers; nobody paying attention to either." Carelessly the Federals had left nearby Little Round Top undefended; five rebel regiments rushed to seize this ideal location for their cannon. Colonel Strong Vincent, at 26 the youngest brigade commander, took the initiative without permission and rushed the 20th Maine and three other regiments (1,350 men total) to Little Round Top. They arrived fifteen minutes before the Confederates, and, with four more regiments soon joining them, they beat back five attacks. Vincent had saved the day--"Don't yield an inch!" he shouted seconds before a bullet ripped through his heart. On a day for heroes the 20th Maine withstood charge after charge until it ran out of ammunition. Undaunted, its intrepid commander, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (a Bowdoin College professor on sabbatical) ordered a bayonet charge and captured the bewildered attackers. Little Round Top was secure.

    Lee was uncharacteristically slow issuing orders, and his key corps commander, Longstreet even slower carrying them out. Against battle-hardened Union veterans, commanded by highly experienced generals and colonels, the small delays and little mistakes began to cumulate. Lee's biographers seem to assume that if his orders for an early attack on Day Two had been carried out that they would have been successful. There is no reason to suppose this. When Longstreet finally attacked (at 5:30 pm) the intense fighting in the "Peach Orchard" and "The Wheatfield" proved inconclusive. Lee sent Ewall's corps on a diversionary attack against Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge in the north. It almost succeeded, but was finally repulsed by hot canister fire. Lee lacked the reserves, artillery and ammunition needed to transform his momentary advantages into victory. Seven afternoon and evening hours of poorly coordinated attacks by 22,000 rebels had been repulsed by 40,000 Federals. Seven thousand Confederate casualties had purchased a few acres of bloody turf. With fresh reinforcements to replace his losses, and with good artillery positions, Lee decided to attack once more on Day Three. Again he rejected conservative advice, and seemed unaware that artillery ammunition was running low. He assumed the enemy was badly hurt and dispirited, and that he could, as so many times before, outwit their generals. Union morale was strong; in the 150th Pennsylvania Regiment, "Each man felt that upon his own arm hung the fate of the nation." Lee aimed a frontal attack, this time at Meade's center. That was exactly what Meade expected, and he set a trap.

    Stuart's tired-out cavalry, armed with revolvers and sabers, finally arrived on Day Three a few miles from the main battlefield. But they were checked by Union cavalry (especially a brigade under General George Custer, age 23) which used new fast- firing breech-loaders, the single-shot Sharps carbine. Stuart had taken all Lee's best cavalry, leaving the main army with two third-rate, ill-equipped, poorly led brigades that could not handle reconnaissance or much of anything else.

    The main battle on Day Three opened with one of the greatest artillery duels of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the war, artillery was considered a minor adjunct to infantry or a device for coastal defense. Both armies used batteries of 4-6 guns (and 90 men) assigned to the several divisions. By 1863 Confederate experience had proven that artillery would have a more decisive impact when massed in separate brigades attached to the corps. The Army of the Potomac finally adopted the corps artillery system, and went one step further with an army-level reserve. Centralization made supply more efficient and allowed the heavy firepower to be concentrated at the main point of action. The Confederates had a brilliant artillerist in Edward Porter Alexander (age 28), Longstreet's chief of artillery, but Lee's chief of artillery William Pendleton was mediocre at best, and the other officers were undistinguished. Lee had 65 batteries, comprising 4,700 artillerymen and 282 guns. Meade brought 70 batteries comprising 8,000 men and 366 guns, controlled by the Army's top expert, Henry Jackson Hunt. He relied on three types of guns: most useful were his 146 12 pound "Napoleon" smoothbores, of 4.62 calibre (the inside diameter of the muzzle was 4.62 inches). They could fire two rounds a minute of solid shot (weighing 12 pounds). They were relatively inaccurate, and were best used against large formations of infantry. Solid shot, explosive shells and, especially, canister, fired without aiming at a rate of 4 rounds a minute proved devastating against infantry advancing closer than 300 yards. Canister was a tin can filled with 27 iron balls about the size of golf balls; they came out like shotgun pellets at 1000 feet-per-second velocity, and sprayed down everything in their path. When the attackers closed in, they would be hit with double charges of canister.* Hunt's

    * "Grape" was canister using larger balls; it was almost never used in the war, despite the colloquial use of "grape and canister"


    146 3" rifled guns and 64 10-pounder rifled "Parrotts" represented a superior technology; they were much more accurate than Napoleons and had longer range. The problem with rifled guns was their conical shells plowed into the ground and did not bounce like the round shot from a smoothbore. Therefore they were less deadly against infantry formations, and were used primarily to knock out enemy artillery batteries at long range. On the other side, Pendleton had to make do with captured and smuggled guns, producing a frustrating variety of sizes and types of ammunition. He had 111 Napoleons, 44 rifled 10-pounders and 84 rifled 3" guns, 10 very large rifled "Parrott" 20 pounders, and 30 miscellaneous other guns. The Yankee ammunition supply was ample, with 270 rounds per gun (he shot off one third of it, 33,000 rounds in all.) The Confederates however, had only 150 rounds per gun; with powder run through the blockade costing $3 a pound, shortages were the norm. (A Napoleon needed 2 1/2 pounds of powder per round.) Furthermore, Confederate fuzes were often defective and malfunctions common. Lee fired off 22,000 rounds, or half his supply; Alexander had to cut short the preparatory barrage on July 3, and warned that there was not enough for a fourth day of heavy action. Even if Lee had done well on Day Three, he would have had to retreat to his supply base in Virginia.

    Lee assigned Longstreet the critical mission of a frontal attack to seize Cemetery Ridge, the heavily defended Union center. First Longstreet needed to knock out the Yankee artillery, which otherwise would massacre the infantry in the open. Alexander opened fire at 1 pm with 135 guns. The heaviest bombardment of the war, it seemed to succeed, as some of the Union guns were limbered up and pulled out of action. That was a Yankee trick; they were deliberately holding fire. Hunt had 85 guns against Longstreet, but they were better positioned on the heights of Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top; Lee's failure to capture that hill on Day Two was proving ruinous. Yankee infantry huddled behind stone walls and breastworks, whispering thanks that the rebel aim was too high because of poor spotting capability (no observers in balloons or on high hills). However, some rebel 20 pound solid shot did hit home:

    One of these shots struck in the center of a line of infantry, who were lying down behind the wall. Taking the line lengthwise, it literally ploughed up two or three yards of men, killing and wounding a dozen or more.

    At 3 pm Longstreet's artillery stopped and 47 regiments marched out, a mile wide, in parade ground formation. On the right swashbuckling George Pickett commanded a division of 15 regiments; he had been the first American to scale the ramparts at Chapultepec, and now he determined to scale Cemetery Ridge, a veritable Gibraltar a mile ahead of him. The Union cannon reawakened with explosive shot and solid balls. Pickett's division took the brunt of fire, staggered, pushed forward. At 200 yards Union artillery switched to canister. At 100 yards the Yankee infantry opened fire with deadly riflery, and the regiments on either side swung in to catch the rebels with flanking fire. "Don't hurry men!" commanded general John Gibbon. "Don't fire too fast. Let them come up close before you fire, and then aim low and steadily." Still the rebels advanced, their units all jumbled, the senior commanders nearly all down. A few hundred actually made it to the crest, and were shot down. Of the 15,000 Confederates who had gone forward, scarcely half made it back--and only a third of Pickett's men.

    It was the worst defeat Lee had ever known. Maybe with twice as many soldiers and twice the artillery "Pickett's Charge" could have succeeded, but the Confederacy had no more to spare, while the Yankees had plenty of fresh reserves.* Lee's past battles had been models of efficiency, coordination, and timely movement. At Gettysburg the rebel soldiers fought ferociously, but their generals mistimed their moves, wasting their strength and allowing the Yankees to concentrate on the decisive points. Stunned, humiliated, with only 42,000 effectives left, Lee feverishly prepared for Meade's counterattack on Day Four, the Fourth of July. Meade had 56,000 left, but he did not move. "We have done well enough," he said, surprised that he had not been whipped by Lee, who was still assumed to have more soldiers. Meade did not fathom that he had won one of history's greatest battles, nor, despite insistent telegrams from Lincoln, did he realize he could have cut off Lee's retreat back to Virginia. Lee, his wagon trains slowed by the plunder of Pennsylvania, presented a target that a Grant or a Sherman would have lunged at--perhaps capturing him and ending the war. Meade, too new to overall command, too bedazzled by Lee's reputation, suddenly acted like all his predecessors, and hesitated too long at the critical moment. Lee made his escape. Although there would be only light fighting in the East for the next 10 months, the end was now in sight. No one realized it would take another 21 months. Perceptive Confederates, like chief of ordnance Josiah Gorgas, were crestfallen:

    Yesterday we rode on the pinnacle of success; today absolute ruin seems to be our portion. The Confederacy totters to its destruction.

    * Total casualties in Gettysburg campaign:

    dead wounded missing total % of forces

    USA 3,200 14,500 5,400 23,100 27%

    CSA 3,900 18,700 5,500 28,100 38%

    Union medical services were ready; Dr. Jonathan Letterman had 650 doctors, 3,000 medics, 1,000 ambulances and an efficient system of one field hospital for each division. They treated 20,000 patients, blue and gray alike. Expecting another battle, Letterman pulled 540 doctors out of the hospitals to follow Meade, a tragic miscalculation.


    1863: The West: Vicksburg and Chattanooga

    Westerners pooh-poohed Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, the only major battles in the East in 1863: they just canceled each other out. The real war was being fought and won in the West, where the theater stretched not two hundred miles across Virginia, but a thousand miles from Cincinnati to New Orleans. The first western strategic goal was to seize full control of the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers, and state of Tennessee. The second goal was to use the Tennessee River to launch an attack at the rebel heartland in Georgia. The Mississippi River was of less strategic value, but control was a high priority because the "Father of Waters" was central to the image of nationhood held by westerners. Furthermore, control would completely knock Texas and Arkansas without the need to defeat the strong armies there. Throughout the war, Washington and Richmond both tended to ignore the west; they sent inadequate soldiers and supplies. The two national governments, and their respective media and influential elites, were oriented toward the East front, which they mistakenly assumed would prove decisive. Responsibility for the various armies (and Union Navy) out west was divided on both sides. But while the Federals learned to cooperate under the brilliant consensus-oriented leadership of Grant, the Confederates squabbled continually, and failed to communicate and cooperate. Grant thus beat them piecemeal. Grant's biggest challenge was geography and nature itself. The Union armies were challenged by swamps and mud, by the twists and turns of the rivers and bayous that hid a hundred bushwhackers, by the insufferable heat, and especially by diseases that northerners were unaccustomed to. Lee believed that the Yankees would be wiped out by malaria, so there was no need to ship a portion of his troops west. Indeed, every year doctors treated 900 cases of malaria per thousand of Grant's soldiers (victims usually were recorded multiple times, most men never caught the disease). The Yankees, however, had ample supplies of quinine, and kept the death rate to 4 per 1000 effectives per year. The Confederates, short of quinine, doctors, hospitals and food, suffered much more.

    Grant set his first mission the capture of Vicksburg, one of two Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi. For half a year every strategy he could devise failed. At one point he even tried digging a new channel for the river so the fortress would be left high and dry. Aware that political enemies in Washington might get him recalled, Grant kept on the move. Grant's supply lines, based a railroad from Columbus, Kentucky, grew longer and more vulnerable the further south he moved. At least he had supply lines; the Confederates had to live off the land, and also leave enough for their civilians to survive. In December, one rebel cavalry raid cut the railroad from Columbus and another captured Grant's main supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi. Grant was forced to pull back to Memphis, rely on the river for supplies, and rethink his strategy. He tried waterborne attacks, which also failed. Finally in spring, 1863, he realized that his supply lines were a handicap; defending them tied down half his army, and their very existence told the enemy where he would be. He could live off the land too (leaving civilians only two months worth of food) and use freed slaves as laborers. In the most audacious move of the war, Grant circled around Vicksburg from the south and east, and cut loose from his supply lines. He would win the campaign or lose his entire army. Passing Vicksburg was a challenge accepted by Commodore David Porter. On April 16, after dark he slipped the Yankee fleet past the 31 heavy guns of Vicksburg, dodging one shell every ten seconds, and absorbing one a minute. All were hit repeatedly, but were saved by their thick iron armor (one sank). A week later a flotilla of Army steamers made the same run (manned by soldiers, as the civilian crews declined the job.) Grant's army marched south in roundabout fashion, then was ferried by Porter to the east bank of the Mississippi. When Grant sent 1,700 cavalry under Colonel Grierson on a hugely successful 600-mile raid through the length of Mississippi, the Confederates lost their telegraph, their railroads and their knowledge of where Grant's army was.

    In a masterful display of strategic maneuver against a divided enemy, Grant marched 130 miles in ten days, won four battles, and laid a tight siege on Vicksburg. Grant had systematically destroyed railroads and bridges behind him, so that Johnston's Confederate army could not relieve the siege. Washington assisted by rushing in reinforcements hurriedly pulled off garrison and anti-guerrilla duty. Vicksburg, under siege for 48 days, was on the verge of starvation; it surrendered on July 4, 1863, with 30,000 prisoners.* Five days later Port Hudson, the last fortress on the Mississippi, surrendered after a 47 day siege of its own, and the Confederacy was cut in twain.

    In defying the strategic law that armies had to maintain and protect their supply lines, Grant not only ignored Halleck in Washington and disregarded the advice of his top aid General Sherman, he violated one of the geometrical principles of warfare as expounded by the leading European theorist, Baron Antoine Jomini.* (Grant admitted he had never bothered to read Jomini.) Jomini depicted warfare primarily as a matter of capturing key localities and winning battles by maneuver and timing. His mathematical models fascinated smart engineers like Halleck (3rd out of 31 in his West Point class), McClellan (2nd out of 59) Lee (2/46) and Sherman (6/42); luckily for Grant, he graduated so low in his West Point class (21/39) that he was ineligible to join the engineers. Jomini's principles ignored the broader political question of national ability and will to fight, and downplayed practical matters of manpower, training, intelligence, logistics and weaponry. Grant concluded instead that, "there are no fixed laws of war which are no subject to the conditions of the country, the climate, and the habits of the people." The epiphany hit Sherman on May 18, when he stood with Grant overlooking the Mississippi; they had circled Vicksburg and reestablished their supply line. Sherman became an avid convert to Grant's radical methods. To win the war, they decided, they had to break the Confederacy's ability and will to resist, while winning enough battles to maintain morale in the army and on the homefront. Lincoln understood that Grant had the answer. He first gave Grant command in the west, then in early 1864 demoted Chief of Staff Halleck to clerical chores and put Grant in overall charge of military strategy, with Sherman in command of the western theater.

    * Grant paroled the prisoners, many of whom promptly rejoined the rebel army; other had enough and went home to stay.

    ** Jomini's other principles included concentrating superior numbers (which Grant understood well), the advantage of short interior lines of communication over longer exterior lines (which Grant ignored, since he had a much larger source), and the advantage of turning (sideways) movements over frontal assaults (ignored by Grant). Grant would have agreed wholeheartedly with Jomini's admonitions about the psychological value of surprise and the danger of passivity (except at Shiloh, Grant always attacked first.)

    While Grant was capturing Vicksburg, the Union Army of the Cumberland, under William Rosecrans, was grinding forward from Nashville to Chattanooga (on the Tennessee-Georgia border). Bragg's Confederate "Army of Tennessee", reinforced by Longstreet, lured Rosecrans into a trap at Chicamagua. Whipped, the Yankees had to fall back to Chattanooga, which Bragg put under siege. Lincoln sent in Grant and things started to happen. He broke the siege, and won decisive victories in November at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge that cleared Tennessee and opened the way to Atlanta. Little fighting occurred over the winter of 1863-64, allowing the Confederacy to furlough soldiers to work their home farms, a necessity in view of plaintive letters like this one from an Alabama wife:

    We haven't got nothing in the house to eat but a little bit o meal.... I don't want , you to stop fighting them Yankees...but try and get off and come home and fix us up some and then you can go back.

    1864: Simultaneous Attacks: The Strategy

    Lincoln wanted to turn the North's numerical superiority to advantage by simultaneous attacks from every direction. Henry Halleck, the Army chief of staff, laughed off Lincoln's amateurism; it conflicted with Jomini's principle that forces had to be concentrated at decisive points. After Grant's success at Chattanooga, Lincoln demoted Halleck and brought Grant in as overall commander in charge of general strategy, with the added role of supervising Meade's Army of the Potomac. The US now had the world's first modern command system, with clear lines of authority from civilians (Lincoln and the Secretary of War), through a military staff (Halleck's new role) to a general in

    * A few years later Prussia created an even more effective system, the "general staff". It had full responsibility for operations and planning, and trained its own career personnel.

    chief (Grant).* Grant decided (correctly) that Lee was invulnerable in Richmond. He proposed to cut off Virginia and Lee's army by an invasion of North Carolina; once Raleigh, the state capital, was captured, Lee would be isolated from his base of supplies and manpower reinforcements. The plan was a good one but Lincoln, increasingly self-confident in his skills as a strategist, overruled Grant and insisted he concentrate on Lee's army. "On to Richmond!" was a political goal that Lincoln insisted upon. Grant, always sensitive to the political imperatives of the hour, scrapped his plan. Instead he adopted a program for 1864 of simultaneous attacks from every direction, with Grant himself leading the attack on Lee. Grant vividly remembered how Lee sent Longstreet's corps by rail to Chicamagua, and greatly exaggerated the capability of the disintegrating rebel rail system to repeat that miracle. His strategy would guarantee that the Confederacy would be unable to move reinforcements from a quiet sector to an active front. The main goal of the strategy was attrition. As Grant explained in August, 1864,

    "A man lost by them cannot be replaced.... Besides what they lose in frequent skirmishes and battles, they are now losing from desertions and other causes at least one regiment per day."

    Furthermore, with a little luck, some of the attacks might score major breakthroughs.

    Operations in 1864 started poorly. Over Grant's objections, Lincoln sent General Banks and Admiral Porter up the Red River into Texas. Military victory was not the objective: Lincoln wanted to escalate the economic war by breaking the Confederacy's embargo on cotton. A second goal was to trump Richmond's diplomacy, which was trying to forge an alliance with France by allowing that power to take over Mexico in violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Banks was defeated by Richard Taylor (Zachary Taylor's son) at Sabine Pass in April, and almost did not make it back. Draught had so lowered the river that Porter's fleet was unable to recross the rapids. The dilemma was solved by an infantry colonel who had been a lumberman in Wisconsin; he hurriedly built a series of spill dams; cutting each dam in turn created a flow that allowed Porter's boats to run the rapids and escape to safety. Another fiasco developed in Virginia, where Ben Butler was supposed to advance his army on Richmond from the south. Instead Bureaugard's smaller force bottled him up on a peninsula. Butler later in 1864 was sent to capture Wilmington, North Carolina, the last remaining blockade-running port. The rebels defended their city with the strongest fort on the globe, Fort Fisher, with its high, thick walls and 50 heavy guns. Butler failed miserably--it seemed that coast artillery could defend against a naval attack. Grant replaced Butler with Alfred Terry, who cooperated with Porter in a blistering bombardment and land assault that captured the fort in January, 1865. The prison walls of the Confederacy now had closed in--the last openings to the outside world were finally nailed shut.

    Grant Tries Attrition

    Grant and Lincoln conferred regularly on grand strategy, and in the spring of 1864 they decided on an attrition policy. Grant believed (incorrectly) that Lee would be unable to replace his casualties, especially now that prisoners were no longer exchanged but kept in permanent confinement. Grant further assumed (incorrectly) that his losses could easily be replaced by Lincoln. Attrition would be merciful in the long run, for it would more speedily end the war. There were political goals as well. Public opinion in the North might soon tire of the war effort. The nation was prosperous enough, but the casualty tolls gnawed at public sensibility. The federal draft law was widely denounced as inequitable--it caused more unrest than it was worth in terms of the 50,000 men who were actually drafted and served. Although the North dropped the unpopular device of allowing draftees to pay $300 to get out of service, it still allowed men to furnish substitutes. Older men furnished young relatives, or hired a substitute. Many northern towns sent hired black freedmen as substitutes for their own draftees. High bonuses brought in a barely adequate supply of volunteers. The failure after three years to shake the Southern resolve in favor of independence raised questions about the quality of Northern leadership, including Lincoln's own presidency. The escalation of war goals to include emancipation was violently denounced by most Democrats as a perversion of the cause of nationalism, despite Republican insistence that the Confederacy was propped up by the institution of slavery, which therefore had to be knocked down.

    1864: Politics and Attrition Warfare in Virginia

    The presidential election of 1864 affected the military strategy of Lincoln and Grant. The Confederacy was on its last legs, but its front line troops were fighting just as ferociously as ever. Peace negotiations came to naught, as Jefferson Davis told a peace mission that, "This war must go on till the last of the generation falls in his tracks...unless you acknowledge our  right to self-government. War weariness in the North, and complaints inside the Republican party that Lincoln was moving too slowly on emancipation, put the president's reelection bid in jeopardy. At one point in August when the prognosis seemed dismal, Lincoln expected to lose, and his successor (who would take office March 4, 1865) probably would arrange a truce. That would destroy the Union, so Lincoln vowed that if defeated he would do whatever it took to defeat the rebellion and save the Union by March. Meanwhile, he told Grant he needed victories in the field; there had been no victories (and almost no fighting) on the eastern front since Gettysburg in July 1863. Grant obliged with a six-week "Overland Campaign" (May 4-June 12, 1864) that risked disaster. Grant calculated that the Confederacy had every available man in the field; "They have robbed the cradle and the grave equally to get their present force." A strategy of attrition would prove decisive:

    Every depletion of their army is an irreparable loss. Desertions from it are now rapid. With the prospect of large additions to our force the desertions would increase. The greater number of men we have the shorter and less sanguinary will be the war.

    Although Grant had 120,000 soldiers, Lee's 60,000 could move faster. Grant squandered his numerical superiority by attacking at the "Wilderness," a thick forest north of Richmond. Maneuver was impossible, and losses heavy. Beaten there he hurried further south to Spotsylvania. Lee was lighter and faster, and won the race. The carnage at "Bloody Angle" was grisly, as recounted by Grant's aide Horace Porter:

    The battle near the "angle" was probably the most desperate engagement in the history of modern warfare, and presented features which were absolutely appalling. It was chiefly a savage hand-to-hand fight across the breastworks. Rank after rank was riddled by shot and shell and bayonet-thrusts, and finally sank, a mass of torn and mutilated corpses; then fresh troops rushed madly forward to replace the dead, and so the murderous work went on. Guns were run up close to the parapet, and double charges of canister played their part in the bloody work.... Wild cheers, savage yells, and frantic shrieks... formed a demoniacal accompaniment to the booming of the guns.

    It is a rule that, when the rebels halt, the first day gives them a good riflepit; the second, a regular infantry parapet with cannon in position; and the third a parapet with an abatis in front and entrenched batteries behind. Sometimes they put this three-days' work into the first twenty-four hours.*
    * An abatis was an entanglement made from tree branches pointing outward . It was almost as effective as the barbed wire used in World War I.

    Instead of retreating as all his predecessors had done, Grant turned south and attacked again. The bluecoats cheered. They at last had a commander who planned to win this war. Grant vowed "to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." He again attacked Lee's barricades at Cold Harbor on June 1, losing 7000 casualties in a half-hour of stupid frontal assaults. No victories, 2,000 casualties a day and 1,500 Confederate losses. The fantastic casualty toll was undercutting the Republican efforts to bolster public opinion. Grant realized that attrition was politically unacceptable, and was fast ruining his army. The people of the North, he decided were "naturally restless and apt to become discouraged." He decided to "make a desperate effort to get a position here which will hold the enemy [Lee] without the necessity of so many men." With election day approaching, Lincoln thanked his commander in chief:

    Pressed as we are by lapse of time, I am glad to hear you say this; and yet I do hope you may find a way that the effort shall not be desperate in the sense of a great loss of life.

    Grant's solution to Lee's trench warfare was brilliant. He built his own system of trenches and fortifications, and slowly worked clockwise around Petersburg. Cavalry raids watched Lee's movements and cut his vital railroad lines. Grant's top priority was to make sure Lee did not break lose and try to link up with forces in Carolina and attack Sherman. The trenches hid Grant's maneuvers, and provided numerous venues for a surprise all-out assault on one sector of Lee's trenches. Lee had to protect every yard of his 35 miles of trenches. Grant almost broke through on July 30, when a huge underground mine blew a hole in the center of Lee's trenches. Badly coordinated attacks left most of the Yankees in the crater that was formed, where the rebels shot them like fish in a barrel. The Battle of the Crater was the worst bungled operation of the war, but Grant did not let it shake his self confidence or his strategy of keeping the pressure on. Union casualties on the Virginia front alone totaled 17,000 in June (2,000 dead), and averaged 7,500 a month (740 dead) from July through October. (Losses elsewhere were much lighter.) After Lincoln was reelected in November, there was no immediate need for a victory so Grant let up the pressure until the following March; his casualties were only 400 in November and 600 in December. Lee, however, still had to guard against Grant's capability to make a decisive breakthrough. He had to keep his men in the trenches throughout the winter months. The frozen mud in the unusually cold winter was so thick that neither side could march quickly. While Union supplies were abundant, Lee's situation steadily worsened; his cavalry was sent stations a hundred miles to the south where forage was still available.

    Confederate nationalism flourished inside the armies, but seemed to disintegrate behind Yankee lines, and the Yankees seemed to be everywhere at once. The unity that blurred class lines in 1861 now faded, allowing a major split between poor whites and slaveowners to weaken the Confederate effort. The poor were less and less able to deal with deprivations and handle the growing stress--they could not, for example, afford to send women and children away to safe areas. They had difficulty protecting their precious food supplies from Confederate Army impressment, or from theft and raids from increasingly bold and bloodthirsty bandits. Curses about "the rich man's war and the poor man's fight" attacked those slaveowners who seemed more intent on protecting their property than saving their nation. Lincoln's policy of creating a highly profitable market for cotton in the Mississippi Valley encouraged planters to sell their crops, thus giving de facto support to the federals. After all, they reasoned, Richmond was unable to provide markets or defend the territory. Political leaders tried to balance the situation by raising taxes on the rich, impressing their slaves and exempting the poor. The policy alienated the slaveholders who by 1863 or '64 were out of cash themselves, and could not pay the taxes.

    Amazingly, the Confederacy still managed to find some fresh manpower, especially from youth coming of age and eager for excitement. Of course they had few opportunities in civilian life as the once prosperous southern economy disintegrated. Rebel soldiers became folk heroes, and in the forge of many campaigns developed an esprit that kept their fighting skills honed. A series of religious revivals in the Confederate armies heightened the sense that their sacrifice was meaningful. Men who lacked esprit did not lower group morale--they just deserted and had no further influence on the remaining soldiers. The famous Stonewall Brigade (33d Virginia Infantry) lost one fourth of its men through desertion. Even as desertions weakened the Confederate armies, new recruits raised the strength of the Army of Northern Virginia from 40,000 in October to 67,000 at the end of the year (another 100,000 were hospitalized or had deserted). Against Grant it would not be nearly enough.

    1864: Sherman Takes Atlanta

    Grant assigned himself the task of grinding down Lee's army, and sent Sherman to wear down Johnston's army, which was trying to defend Atlanta even though outnumbered 110,000 to 45,000. Even with the advantage of rough terrain and rivers every few miles that provided defensive positions, Johnston could only delay the inevitable. The campaign was a series of zig-zags south, as Sherman would try to outflank Johnston on his left, then Johnston would retreat and dig in again; then Sherman would try the right flank. Sherman blundered once by attempting a frontal assault on Kennesaw Mountain, and was repulsed with heavy losses. Sherman had to count soldiers carefully; 43 regiments were left behind to guard the single rail line that stretched 150 from the main base in Nashville (and another 190 miles to Louisville, the ultimate supply base.) Twenty regiments marched home when their three years' enlistment expired. New recruits could not be expected until the draft started up again in September, but with 100,000 men in arms the fiery red-head had more than enough. Johnston's retreat was done well, but it disgusted Jefferson Davis, who once again let petty personality conflict cloud his military judgment. In the worst personnel blunder of the war, Davis replaced Johnston with the reckless John Bell Hood, who promptly launched ill-organized assaults against the unstoppable Yankees. Hood was defeated in a series of battles around Atlanta, and the city fell on September 2. After expelling the remaining civilians, Sherman's men were especially diligent in ripping out track, wrecking the bridges, and burning the city's public buildings and numerous munitions factories.

    The fall of Atlanta dumbfounded the antiwar voices. It assured a landslide victory in the November election for Lincoln and his "Union Party" ticket (comprising mostly Republicans, plus a few war Democrats like vice presidential candidate Andrew Johnson of Tennessee). The Republicans would have won the presidential election even without Atlanta, for their organization had been perfected, and the Democratic party was polarized between a peace wing (end the war immediately) and McClellanites (fight on to defeat the rebellion, but not to end slavery). The political resources of the North were now committed to finish the job. To make the destruction of slavery ironclad (the Emancipation Proclamation, never authorized by Congress, could be canceled), Lincoln pushed the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress in February, 1865.

    1864: Sherman's March Through Georgia and South Carolina

    Sherman, copying Grant at Vicksburg, decided to cut loose from his railroad. With but 60 locomotives and 600 freight cars, it was hard pressed to provide the 130 ten-ton carloads of freight needed every day. He sent a third of his force back to Thomas to hold Tennessee, and stripped the brigades down to the bare essentials; the men each carried a five day supply of hardtack. Better food would be acquired along the way. The famous "March from Atlanta to the Sea" represented a new kind of warfare. Apart from a few ineffective militia units, Sherman encountered no serious opposition. He lived off the country, which because of the transportation breakdowns was bursting with food that could not be moved. His army consumed what it needed, and destroyed the rest. Advancing in two fronts, each 10 to 30 miles wide, Sherman cut a swath through 200 miles of one of the South's richest agricultural districts. Confederates had considered the Fabian tactic of scorched earth--destroy everything first, so Sherman would starve. That was impossible because Sherman, not tied to a supply line, could head in any direction he pleased. "Having alternatives, I can take so eccentric a course that no general can guess my objectives." He used statistical data provided by the census to select the fattest counties to despoil. In 26 days his soldiers wreaked $100 million worth of damage, proving conclusively that War is Hell.

    The swath of destruction was a deliberate refutation of the rebel argument that the Confederacy could never be defeated because it was so large and agriculturally rich. Sherman's March exposed the basic Confederate quandary: their nation was too large to defend. The political goal of preserving slavery necessitated defense of all the territory, since once the Federals passed through the system of slavery was doomed. Many blacks fled the plantations to join the Union armies; a larger number were evacuated by their masters before the Federals arrived. Knowledge that freedom was imminent undercut the automatic obedience that the slave regime required. Sherman's March was essentially a raid: the invaders did not intend to occupy the state, and as soon as they had departed the rebels reclaimed their ruined land. The March rankled for a century in the Southern psyche not so much because of the physical destruction it caused (less than 1% of southern wealth), but because of the studied insult to the honor of the white South. While there were very few instances of rape or mayhem, the Yankees delighted in demonstrating that Southerners were unable to defend their own homes, their property, their slaves, or their families. Sherman understood that the March would be "fatal to the possibility of a Southern independence; they may stand the fall of Richmond, but not of all Georgia." Grant hoped this threat would force Lee to abandon Richmond and rush south to intercept Sherman. Grant indeed had set a trap: if Lee moved, Grant had his entire army ready to chase him down. If he did not move, Georgia would be ruined and the Confederacy would be proven to be but a shadow nation, its armies failures, its men impotent. Lee did not move

    After delivering Savannah to the nation as a Christmas present, Sherman turned north into South Carolina--the very heartland of secession. There, even more than Georgia, the destruction was systematic and symbolic. On February 17 downtown Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, burned to ashes. Sherman had intended to burn only the public buildings and munitions factories, but was not especially vigilant in controlling his men. As part of their economic warfare, Confederate policy was to destroy all cotton before the Yankees could use it. They had therefore piled the streets high with cotton, then soaked it with turpentine and set it ablaze. Tufts of burning cotton, sparks and embers wafted across the city. Routinely the local officials had publicly whipped uppity slaves, and maltreated Yankee prisoners. Revenge came when the last Confederate units pulled out. Hundreds of barrels of Scotch (slipped through the blockade at enormous cost) were liberated by the invaders; the mayor had neglected to destroy it because it was private property. Many elite civilian men, fearful of imprisonment, abandoned their families and servants in the doomed city, and yet later expressed astonishment when the invaders were dilatory at quenching the fires that gutted their aristocratic mansion district. Sherman then headed to North Carolina where (in accord with Grant's original plan), he would isolate Virginia and cut off Lee's army from its base of support.

    While Sherman was marching practically unopposed (save for a battle he won at Bentonville, NC, in March), Hood, was playing a bad and. As Sherman entered Atlanta in September, 1864, Hood moved behind him, planning to sever the federal supply route. There was no supply route, so Hood decided to invade Tennessee, thus forcing Sherman to pull out of Georgia. Sherman, who had planned for this sort of contingency, instead sent Thomas back to guard Tennessee. Hood might have had better luck if he had not delayed so long, but his mistakes were mounting. He missed an obvious opportunity to trap a Federal army at Spring Hill, Tennessee on November 29. The next day his 38,000 troops finally attacked strong defenses manned by 32,000 Federals at Franklin, Tennessee. The rebels were mauled, losing 6,200 casualties and 12 generals. It was time to retreat but Hood still did not understand how much trouble he was in. When Thomas pulled back into fortifications around Nashville the rebels took the bait and were sucked into a trap. Reinforcements rushed in to give a numerical advantage to the better armed Yankees. Hood must have been dreaming of his glory days at Chicamagua. He refused to retreat and when an ice storm hit in early December he was frozen in place. Attack! Attack! Grant ordered, but Thomas, the methodical planner, refused to move until every unit was ready. Finally a warm spell melted the ice and Thomas' elaborate plans were put into operation. The Yankees attacked and rolled up Hood's left flank at the Battle of Nashville, December 15, 1864, in one of history's classic examples of battlefield maneuvering. The rebel lines crumbled, the soldiers fell back in a wild retreat. Nashville was the most decisive battle of the entire war. By the time Hood pulled his forces together again in Mississippi, his once vaunted Army of Tennessee had been reduced by casualty and desertion to a helpless shell. The war in the west was over.

    Mobilizing for Total War

    The modernity of the North was brilliantly demonstrated by its systematic, and highly successful organization of all the indirect needs of warfare. Factories poured out munitions, including in 1864 alone, 1,700 cannon, and 1.7 million shells, 800,000 rifles and 169 million cartridges. New soldiers for the year totaled some 700,000. Five Midwestern governors volunteered 100,000 militia for 100 days' duty--the summer campaigning season. As the three-year enlistments of the veteran cohort of 1861 expired, 60% of the 240,000 veterans reenlisted, encouraged by federal, state and local bounties, and by the camaraderie unique to a fighting force. Lincoln's plan to draft another 500,000 men miscarried, as only a few thousand actually showed up--many of whom were bounty jumpers who immediately deserted. Vigorous--even coercive--recruiting in the Freedmen's camps produced 100,000 black soldiers, most of whom were assigned to "pioneer" (labor) or garrison duties.

    As the first war fought between two rich, modern economies, the Civil War was by far the most expensive war the world had known. Considering just the period from July 1, 1861 to June 30, 1865, the USA spent $3.1 billion, and the CSA (whose records are poor) spent perhaps one third as much. (Multiply by 10 to convert to 2000 dollars.) Voluntary contribution of service was essential to both sides--the vast majority of soldiers volunteered and served because of patriotism, rather than because of the pay or bonuses. A basic principle in the North was the profit motive. Individuals and companies that supplied the Yankees and invested in US bonds were guaranteed a handsome profit, regardless of the loud outcries from opponents of the war about favoritism, corruption and overcharging. By 1864 the Union kept its army full by paying cash bonuses to enlistees. Taxation was a necessary evil during the war. The economic system was too primitive to rely on income taxes, although a moderate one was imposed by Washington and raised $55 million. Instead the North imposed excise taxes (a sort of national sales tax) of $370 million, and taxed imports (the high "Morrill tariff") for $305 million. Taxation covered about one- fourth of Washington's cash outlays. Inflation was a hidden tax used moderately in the North (where prices rose 80% in four years), and massively in the South (where they rose by twenty times). Always before (and after) the US Treasury had receipts (taxes plus borrowings) to exactly match spending. In the emergency, the US Treasury issued $450 million worth of paper money (called "greenbacks" because of the ink), that were not matched with receipts or gold and which therefore became inflationary. Richmond issued $170 million in unbacked paper money in 1861 alone, and over a billion dollars more later on. The paper became increasingly worthless and forced up the price level to astronomical levels. Barter replaced cash, compounding the inefficiency and waste in an economic system that could not bear the burdens placed on it. Inflation was a hidden tax on the thrifty, the patriotic and the optimistic Confederates, and increasingly they came to understand how their government was fooling them.

    Both sides tried to borrow; the Yankees did a much better job, primarily because the new national banking system had monetized the North's wealth. Philadelphia banker Jay Cooke democratized financing. He organized highly publicized campaigns that enabled ordinary middle class citizens to purchase $50 savings bonds in monthly installments. Sales reached $1.2 billion and paid for 40% of the federal war budget. The purchasers of bonds gave up money that would have been spent on civilian goods, in return for the promise that they would be repaid with interest after the war. They were; the bonds were eventually paid off by taxpayers who had been children in 1860, and who by 1890 were much wealthier than their parents. Taxes also diverted spending from the civilian into the military sector, but the burden fell entirely upon the wartime taxpayer. Probably half the savings of the North went into the war effort, but there was much left over to invest in new factories, railroads, and enterprises. The private sector flourished in the North, and shriveled away in the South. In Philadelphia, one new factory opened every week of the war; in the South, one closed every week. Both nations tried to borrow money from Europe. The Yankees did well, but Richmond cleared only $7 million from the 1862 bond sale to the Erlanger bank in Paris. Forty times as much money was invested by the British in the blockade runners.

    The Confederacy used some radical financing with devastating consequences. It confiscated property owned by Yankees and postponed payment of debts owed foreigners. Extremely unpopular was the seizure ("impressment") of civilian goods by army sergeants who came around with an empty wagon and a book full of coupons. The coupons promised payment at some future date for whatever horses, mules, cattle, hogs, chickens, vegetables, grain, hardware, lumber, and fuel the sergeant could locate and cart away. Slaves were impressed into government construction projects and gunpowder factories. A hidden method of financing the war, but one critical in the South, was to postpone normal investment, repair and upkeep. Prewar stocks of food, clothing and equipment were used up without replenishment. The stock of animals shrank by one third. Property damaged by war or accident, or just used up in normal operations, was not replaced. The railroad system was ground to the nub like an overused pencil. Household items were in disrepair--by 1865, Whitelaw Reid noticed, "A set of forks with whole tines is a curiosity. Clocks and watches have nearly all stopped. . . . Hair brushes and tooth brushes have all worn out." The myth after the war was that the damnyankees had stripped the countryside bare. Indeed there was systematic destruction in some areas, but overall the total wealth fell 43%, and the devastation was practically as bad in areas that escaped the Yankee soldiers--indeed they never entered a majority of counties in the deep South. There the impressment officers wore gray uniforms*. In four years the Confederacy itself used up the substance of the southern economy, and it would not fully recover for many decades.

    * Yankees occasionally impressed when deep in rebel territory, as in Sherman's March; their coupons were actually worth real money. No payment was made for the freed slaves (except those in the District of Columbia). In economic terms emancipation represented a transfer of wealth from one group of southerners (white salve owners) to another (the freedmen themselves.) The postwar South was impoverished because the new system extracted less work out of people, the region's crops brought lower prices, and the highly productive new industrial order bypassed the region.


    Hospitals and Relief

    To prepare for heavy casualties the semi-governmental Sanitary Commission stepped up its medical programs, raised large sums at fairs in the major cities, and promoted hygiene and new surgical techniques (using chloroform and ether as anesthetics) that reduced the death toll among the wounded, and kept the amputations to a minimum. Partially disabled soldiers were enrolled in a new Invalid Corps and given non-combat missions. The Army established an ambulance service with new vehicles and trained personnel assigned to moving the wounded to field hospitals as rapidly as possible. Even so, long delays were often caused by the failure of opposing commanders to arrange a quick truce for removal of the wounded. Hospital steamers and special railroad cars brought the seriously wounded from field hospitals near the battlefields to one of 120,000 beds in the Army's 190 general hospitals.

    There was no pressure for the military of either side to allow women in uniform (though some served as spies, and others fought in male disguise). Controversy did erupt on the new role of women as nurses. The need for nursing care for several hundred thousand wounded, and upward of ten million sick soldiers was obvious.* A few years earlier the English reformer Florence Nightingale had demonstrated the value of a female nurse corps in

    * The Federal surgeons tabulated 1.7 million cases of diarrhea 44 and dysentery (44,500 fatal), 1.3 million of malaria (10,000 fatal), 148,000 of typhoid fever (34,800 fatal), 80,000 of syphilis and gonorrhea (150 fatal), 77,000 of pneumonia (20,000 fatal), and 76,000 of measles (5,000 fatal). The Confederate totals were never compiled, but surely were just as bad.

    the Crimean War. Since the first American nursing schools opened after the war, and the Army and Navy nurse corps were 40 years in the future, there were no women trained as nurses. No men either, but the need was so pressing that over 15,000 male nurses served (in civilian capacity) in military hospitals on both sides. Much nursing work was performed by soldiers who were themselves recuperating in the hospitals. The Richmond General Hospital had 25 black male nurses (16 of them slaves) and a couple of black women. On both sides, five of six nurses were men, of whom the most famous was poet Walt Whitman. The patients were ambiguous, embarrassed by the presence of women crossing the gender line but also appreciative of the tenderness that they provided beyond the Army regulations.

    Ten thousand Yankee women (and 1000 Southerners) served in multiple roles. While many patriotic women wanted to serve, family pressure (responding to ugly, false gossip) was negative. Ulysses Grant told his wife to stop visiting hospitals. Julia Ward Howe's plans to volunteer were vetoed by her husband; she stayed home and wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Those who did break the bounds of Victorian decorum served many roles.

    Most informal were the healers, helpers and relatives who volunteered their services without pay, and proved necessary to deal with the overload in the wake of major battles. The performed many chores that boosted morale--changing dressings, serving food, washing clothes and writing letters. The military surgeons who ran the hospitals emphasized elaborate organization and chain of command, and strongly disapproved of the volunteers. Occasionally a politically well-connected woman appeared, like Clara Barton, who fluttered from here to there, being most useful in bringing necessary supplies that had run short. In later years Barton helped organize the American National Red Cross, using as her model not the war experience but the Red Cross programs established in Europe in the 1880s. The Sanitary Commission, a private, very well-run philanthropic effort to upgrade the hygienic conditions of the US Army, employed some women nurses on hospital ships, and gave scope to philanthropists like Mary Livermore.*

    * Livermore recognized that women's wartime contribution validated their citizenship, but future influence over social issues required the right to vote. The War accelerated demands for woman's suffrage, which was finally awarded in recognition of women's homefront contributions to winning World War I.

    In 1861 Dorothea Dix, a prominent philanthropist, obtained War Department approval for a cadre of civilian nurses who would work in Army general hospitals under the supervision of the army surgeons. Dix screened the applicants carefully, making sure they were over 30 and exuded no sex appeal. Some 3,200 women participated, with duties, depending on the surgeon, that ranged from housekeeping chores to administering medications. None were assigned to field hospitals, and except in emergencies few were assigned to direct patient care. By 1863 Dix's dictatorial style was so offputing that the Surgeon General gave his doctors authority to hire women not provided by Dix. Many of the nurses (including author Louisa May Alcott) broke under the strain, or later reported the health had been permanently damaged. The Dix experiment ended with the war, because of Dix's difficult personality and her repeated insubordination-- especially her penchant for disregarding medical orders and providing instead the sort of therapy she considered best suited to the patients. The surgeons much preferred Catholic nuns from the Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity orders. They knew how to run hospitals and, especially, to follow surgeons' orders precisely.

    Back home, local Republican party organizations worked with county governments to establish a system of relief for impoverished families of soldiers, and for widows and orphans. The oratory of thousands of politicians, preachers and intellectuals, echoed by thousands of newspaper editorials and innumerable pamphlets extolled the war effort, and stressed the need to carry on a little longer so that the unique nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal would not perish from this earth. On November 21, 1864, Lincoln wrote to Widow Bixby in Boston--and to all the grieving parents of soldiers who had died for their nation:

    I have been shown...that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic that they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

    While the North rallied to the challenge, the South was lapsing more and more into fatalism--no one had any plan, any strategy to win the war or force a peace. The only new idea was subsidizing peace activism and antiwar demonstrations in the North. Cash subsidies went to Democratic headquarters in several states, and reached fruition in the party's strenuous canvass for the fall elections. Confederate plots to foment riots, resist the draft, break prisoners out of POW camps, rob banks and even burn down New York City fizzled out when it became apparent that the peace Democrats of the North talked like lions and acted like cowards.

    1865: The End

    Back in Dixie, the economic system was in the last stages of internal collapse, much assisted by Sherman and other federal invaders, not to mention the ever-tightening naval blockade. As its territory shrank, its natural population base declined. As prospects of independence faded, new recruits shied away. Confederate raids into Kentucky and Missouri that were designed to recruit young soldiers came away empty handed. Thousands of casualties each week drained the Confederacy; it was harder and harder to find new horses, new shoes, new soldiers. Frontline combat units were on half rations. The government started to tax food production and ordered it shipped to the front, but two- thirds was spoiled or lost in transit. Captures of Yankee supplies became less common as victories became less frequent. When Confederates Nathan Forrest and Abraham Buford raided Paducah, Kentucky, on March 25, 1864, they were more interested in grabbing 400 horses and tons of supplies than defeating the garrison. The next day the newspapers hooted that they had missed 140 Army mounts hidden in a foundry--whereupon Buford returned and rounded up the horses. The North hoped that Richmond would recognize the hopelessness and come to terms; instead, the enemy's resolve stiffened. The Confederate armies, battle hardened and still superb fighters, assumed more and more political voice in the Confederacy. As the faint-hearted deserted, the die-hards determined to fight to the bitter end. The intention of Grant and Lincoln to win a psychological victory proved extraordinary difficult. While the dream of southern independence slipped away, the fear of slave rebellion and social upheaval, combined with the basic instinct of defending one's home, Soldiers typically misinterpreted setbacks as victories, and discounted even severe defeats. By 1864, however, it became harder and harder for even the most loyal rebs to maintain their illusions. William Chambers of the 43rd Mississippi candidly analyzed his unit in January, 1865:

    The regiment numbers one hundred and fifty men, about half of whom are barefoot. All are ragged, dirty, and covered with vermin.... The men are jovial enough in regard to their condition...but when it comes to discussing the prosecution of the war, they are entirely despondent, being fully convinced the Confederacy is gone.
    Amazingly, the Confederacy survived the winter. With Sherman moving up through North Carolina, the end was near. It came in March, when Grant resumed his offensive against Lee's long, thin line of trenches south of Petersburg. Soon the break came, and Yankees flooded through, nearly capturing Lee himself and killing A.P. Hill, one of Lee's senior corps commanders. Richmond was doomed--the Confederates burned the city on April 3 as a last tribute to their misguided policy of leaving nothing of value for the Yankees to use. Lincoln himself came the next day to see the ruins, and bargain with Virginians about reentry into the Union. It was his last opportunity to promote "malice toward none, charity toward all," as a pro-southern conspiracy assassinated him on Good Friday, April 14. With his Army of Northern Virginia shrinking 5 to 10% a day because of desertions and captures, Lee was doomed. Grant caught and surrounded him at Appomattox on April 9. The surrender ceremony was a simple affair, with the rebels paroled to go home and work their farms. The other fragmented Confederate armies surrendered piecemeal in the next few weeks. Grant sent Sheridan with 50,000 troops to Texas in case the rebels there planned a last ditch stand. They did not. Surrender finally came on May 26. The US troops stayed in Texas however, as an unsubtle reminder that the French army had to evacuate Mexico immediately.

    Winning the war involved two goals, the destruction of the Confederacy and the permanent end of slavery. Washington divided sharply on whether the terms had been met. the new President, southerner Andrew Johnson, took a very lenient position. He said th war was won as soon as the Confederate army and national government disbanded, and the southern state legislatures ratified the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery). Republicans throughout the North were much more skeptical. The feared that the "spirit" of secession still flickered, and that the emancipated slaves ("freedmen") were being kept in a third class status hardly distinguishable from slavery. The war was NOT over. Johnson and the Republicans clashed repeatedly, with the Republicans decisively victorious in the 1866 Congressional elections. Congress then stripped Johnson of control of the Army, giving it to Grant, and nearly impeached the President. They abolished the ex-Confederate state governments Johnson had allowed to rule in the South, and put the region under military control in 1867. The Republicans figured the only way the South would become truly loyal to the Union, and at the same time the vestiges of slavery be eradicated, was to enfranchise the Blacks. In elections held under military rule, the Southern states elected "radical" Reconstruction governments controlled by Republicans. The Army hated police work in the first place, and reluctantly but competently performed the occupation duties assigned it. The show of force was always enough to control the situation; no fighting was necessary. In several states white resistance to "Black Reconstruction: in the late 1860s was violent. Grant, elected president in 1868, used the federal courts (backed up by the Army) to suppress the violently racist Ku Klux Klan. By 1872 probably--and certainly by 1876--the vast majority of Northerners agreed the war was truly over. Secessionism was utterly dead, and all rebel officials had been released from prison or allowed to return from overseas exile. The blacks, despite the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments still did not have full equality (which not many whites favored in the first place), but on the other hand slavery was dead. Even so, federal troops were still propping up three state governments in the South. In a highly controversial presidential election, those very same three states turned the electoral vote to the GOP candidate Rutherford Hayes in 1876. Hayes took office and immediately withdrew the Army, thus finally ending the Civil War.

    Grant and Sherman led the victory parade in Washington on May 24, 1865, with tens of thousands of troops marching in triumphant review. California poet Bret Harte imagined a second parade:

    And I saw a phantom army come, With never a sound of fife or drum, But keeping time to a throbbing hum Of wailing and lamentation: The martyred heroes of Malvern Hill, Of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, The men whose wasted figures fill The patriot graves of the nation. And there came the nameless dead,--the men Who perished in fever-swamp and fen, The slowly-starved of the prison-pen; And, marching besides the others, Came the dusky martyrs of Pillow's fight, With limbs enfranchised and bearing bright: They looked as white as their brothers! So all night marched the Nation's dead

    Jensen's Guide to Reconstruction Online at
    by Richard Jensen revised 11-12-02 copyright 2002