The Union Forever

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The Union Forever

January-May 1862

Union fortunes were looking up in the early months on 1862. After a largely lackluster performance for most of 1861, Federal troops scored a series of impressive victories against the South. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant captured the Confederate Forts Donnellson and Henry on February 6 and 16, opening up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Nashville, then the capital of Tennessee, fell by the end of the Month. The Union even managed a costly victory at the Battle of Shiloh on April 7. On the Mississippi River, Brigadier General John Pope captured Island Number 10 and over 7,000 prisoners on April 8. These successes earned Grant and Pope promotions to Major General. Further south New Orleans, the largest port in the Confederacy, fell to Admiral Farragut and General Butler on May 1 crippling the Confederate’s use of the Mississippi. Union forces were also making impressive headway by capturing points along the Confederate coastline.

Confederate reverses had severely dampened Confederate spirits. When Jefferson Davis was formally installed as the President of the Confederate States of America, previously he had just been provisional president, on a rainy day in Richmond an onlooker asked one of Davis’s footmen why he and President Davis were dressed in black suites. The footman responded with “Well Ma’am this is how we always have done in Richmond for funerals and such.” And with the large Army of the Potomac hovering north of the city many in the Confederacy were wondering whether their secessionist experiment might soon unravel.

The Beginning of the Peninsula Campaign and McClellan’s Accident

With these successes in the west, Lincoln naturally pressed for similar results in the east. Unfortunately President Lincoln and his eastern generals differed as to the preferred method. Lincoln desired the obvious choice of an overland campaign from Washington to destroy Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia and capture the Confederate capital. The President however eventually bowed to General McClellan’s plan to land the Army of the Potomac on the Virginia coast and then move onto Richmond.

The Union had been making steady but painfully slow progress up the Peninsular between the James and York Rivers since March capturing Yorktown, the former colonial capital of Williamsburg, and the vital naval base of Norfolk. At Norfolk, the Confederates destroyed the ironclad CSS Merrimack to prevent her from falling into Union hands.

On May 12, Major General McClellan must have been feeling very pleased with himself after the recent capture of Norfolk against what he consistently believed to be “vastly superior rebel numbers.” Whether this sense of overconfidence helped McClellan not see the shard of metal in the road on that spring morning however is lost to history. Around 8:00 AM after a light breakfast with some of his lieutenants, McClellan mounted his horse Baldy to inspect the camp and make his rounds amongst the troops. Sadly for McClellan, while trotting at a good pace along a fence line near Headquarters, Baldy picked up 6 inch sliver of metal that was protruding from the road. Whether this piece of metal was placed there intentionally has never been proven. Because of the speed at which Baldy was traveling the shard went through the forward right hoof. McClellan, despite being a confident horseman, was thrown when Baldy came to an abrupt and jerking stop. McClellan would in all probability have been fine if it was not for the fence that ran alongside the road. As McClellan fell the fence caught him in the lower back breaking his spine. Captain Jeremiah O’Connor, one of McClellan’s aids was the first to reach McClellan. McClellan’s first words to O’Connor after realizing that he could not move his legs were “Who will save the Union now?”

Major General George McClellan
Army of the Potomac
Commander: July 26, 1861-May 13, 1862

General Sumner Takes Command
After being examined, Army surgeon Charles Hoffmann stated what McClellan already knew, that he was paralyzed from the waist down. News quickly spread of McClellan’s incapacitation. The soldiers of the Army of the Potomac were needless to say devastated by the news of their commander's fall especially in the middle of a campaign. When President Lincoln heard the news, Lincoln is reported to have sighed, hung his head, and muttered “the one time the General takes my advice to move quickly he breaks his back.” To many this seems to have come at the worst time while Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was making himself a profound nuisance in the Shenandoah Valley and the Army of the Potomac was tied up on the Virginia Peninsula. Although despite cables from McClellan that he could still command from his HQ, Lincoln and Halleck both agreed that he would need to be evacuated and a new commander appointed.

Major General Edwin Sumner
Army of the Potomac, Commander

With only limited discussion they both decided that Brig. General Edwin Vose Sumner, then the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s II Corps, would take command. Sumner was the logical choice being the senior general officer on the Peninsula. When word reached General Sumner of his appointed as commander along with his pending promotion to Major General he remarked “Leave it to General McClellan to hand me a situation like this.” Sumner however, as events would soon prove, more than up to the task

Meanwhie, the Union was suffering some staggering reverses in the Shenandoah Valley. Confederate Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had, with his few thousand troops, been scoring a series of victories against the North since March in an effective effort to divert Union reinforcements from reaching McClellan on the Peninsula. Union forces had been largely unsuccessful in stopping Jackson despite their superior numbers.

The Death of Stonewall Jackson

Jackson’ impressive skill and luck did eventually run out. Confederate Major General Richard S. Ewell’s division was ordered to withdraw from the Valley to reinforce Richmond on May 20, 1862. Robert E. Lee pleaded to leave Ewell in the Valley to assist Jackson, but Jefferson Davis ordered Ewell’s redeployment because he believed that with the removal of McClellan a move against the supposedly weekend Army of the Potomac should take priority. Two days later Jackson and the few remaining thousands of his "foot cavalry" were engaged by General Banks’ forces near the city of Strasbourg, Virginia. The battle seemed to be going well for the Confederates until Jackson, who was standing as did “Like a stone wall”, was struck from his horse by a Union bullet to the neck. Jackson bleed out within minutes and the sorrow and confusion surrounding his death led to the Union emerging victorious, capturing the bulk of the late Stonewall’s men.

Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
January 21, 1824-May 22, 1862

Sumner Advances

General Sumner upon inheriting command of the Army of the Potomac wasted no time in continuing to drive up the Peninsula towards Richmond. Reports of Stonewall Jackson’s death at Strasbourg, Virginia was welcomed news as this meant that the Union Army of Virginia under Major General John Pope was now free to press the Confederates from the north.

The Confederates were in a bind. Richmond was in serious danger of becoming encircled with Sumner’s Army of the Potomac advancing up the Peninsular in the east and Pope’s Army of Virginia heading south, placing it in a position to envelope the city and cut Richmond’s supply lines. Furthermore, Southern morale was plummeting and desertions rose as a result of the Yankees advancing ever closer to the Confederate capital in addition to the death of Stonewall Jackson.

Jefferson Davis along with his military aid General Robert E. Lee met with General Johnston at his headquarters on May 25. Davis, with Lee’s encouragement, felt that Johnston should move offensively against Sumner on the Peninsula. They felt that if the Army of the Potomac suffered a serious reversal it would retreat down the Peninsula allowing Confederate forces to then turn against Pope in the north. Johnston however, largely due to his numerical inferiority, believed in a more defensive strategy. He hoped that Sumner would grind his army to a pulp as the Army of Northern Virginia fell back to Richmond. Johnston also suggested that Ewell’s troops, bolstered by some reinforcements from his own army, could hold Pope’s force in check. Davis for now agreed to Johnston’s defensive strategy but stated that if an opportunity to move against Sumner appeared Johnston should take it.
Battle of the Chickahominy

The Battle of the Chickahominy, known as the Four Days Battle to the South, started with Major General Sumner leading a general advance against the Confederate defensive positions outside of Richmond on June 1, 1862. Although Johnston had diverted troops to prop up his northern defenses the Confederates managed to hold their works against Union attacks for most of June 1 and 2. On the evening of June 2, in light of apparent Southern success, President Davis ordered Johnston to counterattack the Army of the Potomac in the morning. Although Johnston was wary of switching to the offensive, he realized the significance that a successful attack would have. Historians have also debated whether Johnston feared being relieved by Davis if he refused to attack. On June 3 Johnston ordered a counterattack against the Union’s left flank south of the Chickahominy River. The resulting Confederate attacks pushed the Federal's IV Corp under Brigadier General Erasmus Keyes back almost a mile. However around 4:00 p.m. the Confederate forces, who had suffered heavy casualties, ran out of steam as they encountered Union entrenchments anchored a few hundred yards from the Chickahominy River. By 6:45 p.m. General Johnston was forced to call off the advance.

On the night of June 3 both sides stopped to mull over the situation. Davis and Johnston were relatively pleased with the day’s results. The Federals had been pushed back and Davis believed that Sumner would atleast withdraw his troops to the north side of the Chickahominy to consolidate his forces. Sumner however, had different plans. Sumner believed, correctly as events would show, that Johnston’s center must have been stretched dangerously thin and that he probably did not expect the North to resume the battle the next day. That night Sumner ordered Brigadier General John Sedgwick’s II Corps to prepare pontoon bridges for use the next morning. At a council of war Sumner convened that night, his generals were surprised to hear that despite the day’s losses the Army of the Potomac would again attack the Confederates who were now exposed outside of their defenses.

Around 7:30 a.m. on June 4, the Union line exploded by launching one of the heaviest artillery barrages of the war. Within an hour the Union’s left and center were surging against the weakened Confederate lines. The Union’s right under General Porter was also making considerable headway and was threatening to turn the Confederate left. By 1:00 p.m. the Confederate right was in danger of being cut off by Sedgwick’s advance and began a headlong retreat west towards Richmond. The Union continued to advance the rest of the day and although casualties were high on both sides the Confederates, due to their inferior numbers, were forced to fall back to within only a few miles of Richmond itself.
The Fall of Richmond

On the night of June 4 President Jefferson Davis was forced to listen to the advice of Johnston and Lee who informed him that Richmond must be abandoned. There decision to evacuate Richmond was also influenced by an erroneous report that Major General Ewell had been defeated by Major General Pope at Gordonsville, Virginia the same day. In reality Pope had been checked by Ewell and had fallen back. Regardless, much of the Confederate governments records and treasury had already been packed and was ordered shipped to Greensboro, North Carolina. Jefferson Davis and most of the other members of the Confederate Government left Richmond in the predawn hours of June 5, 1862.

The Battle of Richmond was anticlimactic as Confederate forces fighting a regard action moved through the city heading south. Attempts to burn the city to prevent its infrastructure and munitions falling into Yankee hands were only partially successful. Nevertheless several fires destroyed swaths of the city. On the morning of June 6, 1862 Union forces entered the capital of the Confederacy. When the Stars and Stripes was raised over the Virginia Capitol building a Union private yelled to Major General Sumner “If only Little Mac could see us now!”

The Virginia State Capitol in Union occupied Richmond
June 6, 1862
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The Confederate Counteroffensive

General Robert E. Lee
Confederates Regroup

When Abraham Lincoln, pacing around the Washington telegraph office as he often did, received news of the fall of Richmond he is reported to have jumped for joy so high that he hit his head on the office’s ceiling. Indeed the entire North was electrified by the fall of the Confederate capital. Harper’s Weekly ran a full page illustration of General Sumner titled “The Conqueror of the Confederacy.” Even the usually somber New York Times blared “Glorious News, Richmond Rightfully Ours!”

If the North was ecstatic, needless to say Confederate moral was devastated by the loss of Richmond. The fall of Richmond was a serious blow to Confederate hopes of receiving foreign recognition. Confederate agent John Slidell in a letter addressed to President Davis from London about a week after receiving news of Richmond’s capture stated “The loss of our capital has silenced almost all discussion here of recognition of our Southern republic." On June 10, as the Army of Northern Virginia continued to head south, Davis relieved General Johnston and placed General Robert E. Lee in command. Lee moved the Army of Northern Virginia to a position a few miles south of Petersburg, Virginia to lick his army’s wounds. Lee had to double the night watch around his camp as desertions, especially amongst Virginian troops, continued to increase at an alarming rate. Major General Ewell’s forces, who had bested Pope at Gordonsville, were being hurriedly routed to reinforce Lee before they were cut off by Northern troops.
On June 12, Jefferson Davis, along with Confederate Secretary of War George W. Randolph, met with General Lee at his Headquarters. All three of the men present knew that if the military situation couldn’t be righted and quickly, the Southern cause was lost. But what to do? It appeared to Davis that he was ever increasingly in a no win scenario. Basic military strategy would dictate that the weaker force should be on the defensive. However the defensive strategy the Confederacy had been pursuing since the start of the war seemed now to have met with almost nothing but defeats. If they continued on the defensive the Confederacy would be slowly strangled by the encircling Union armies. If Davis went over to the offensive however the potential loss of Lee’s Army would be an irreversible calamity.

Events were becoming desperate. Desertions were skyrocketing, the value of Confederate money was plummeting, and several in the Confederacy were now beginning to contemplate rejoining the Union if only a guarantee of slavery could be made. The later sentiment was especially strong in the states of Tennessee and Virginia which were now largely in Union hands. If these states reverted back into the Union, Davis believed, the Confederacy's chances of survival would become slim indeed. Therefore, despite the discrepancies in strength, it was agreed that as soon as possible General Lee should move against the Army of the Potomac along with a similar offensive push by Confederate armies in the western theater.

The Western Theater

Major General Braxton Bragg
Army of Mississippi, Commander

The Western Theater had been going well for the Union. Corinth, Mississippi had fallen shortly after the battle of Shiloh. Jefferson Davis had replaced General P.G.T. Beauregard with General Braxton Bragg as commander of the Army of Mississippi after Beauregard left for medical leave without permission following the fall of Corinth. Although Bragg had proposed an invasion of Kentucky via Confederate controlled eastern Tennessee, Davis instructed Bragg to move against Major General Don Carlos Buell and his Army of the Ohio in Nashville. The reasons for a move against Nashville instead of Kentucky were two fold. First, as the state capital, Nashville’s recapture would go a long way in helping silence any talk of Tennessee returning to the Union. Second, in the event of a defeat, an army invading distant Kentucky would run the serious risk of becoming cutoff and captured. Bragg’s move towards Nashville was planned to coincide with Lee’s advance in Virginia in order to tie down the maximum number of Union troops. Meanwhile further west, the Federals were having considerable difficulty in capturing Vicksburg that, along with Port Hudson, blocked Union use of the Mississippi River. Attempts to bombard it into submission had met with failure. Major General Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee was augmented with some of Buell's forces to capture the city and open the river.

Lee and Bragg Advance

On July 27, 1862 in the swelter summer heat, the Confederate Armies of Northern Virginia and of Mississippi began their advance towards their Federal counterparts. Both Bragg and Lee hoped that their offensives would liberate the two Confederate state capitals that had fallen into Yankee hands. Bragg’s plan was simple, move directly against the weakened Buell in Nashville and capture the city before Union reinforcements in western Tennessee came to his aid. Lee’s plan however was more complex. Lee intended move his forces westward around Richmond and advance towards Washington. Sumner, Lee predicted, would move out of his fortifications in Richmond and engage him. This plan was undoubtedly risky. If Lee was victorious the Union would have vacated Richmond and, if the Army of the Potomac was mauled badly enough, be cut off from its supplies and lines of retreat to the north. On the other hand if Lee was defeated his lines of retreat would be cut off. It was definitely a gamble but with diminishing Confederate fortunes, Lee was willing to risk it to prevent the subjugation of his native state.

The Siege of Nashville

Major General Don Carlos Buell
Army of the Ohio, Commander

The siege of Nashville began on August 6, 1862 when the vanguard of Bragg’s Army of Mississippi drove in outer elements of Buell’s Army of the Ohio. Buell’s army took up their defensive positions around the city. Bragg, for now, enjoyed a rough numerical parity with the Federals. On the morning of August 8, Bragg launched his attack on Buell’s forces south of the Cumberland River. These morning attacks were in the end a costly failure. Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk, second cousin to former U.S. President Polk, was mortally wounded by Union artillery during the assault. A devout Episcopal Bishop, Polk’s final words were “I thank God that he has called me to him so as my eyes will not witness the fall of the South”. To the absolute bewilderment of Jefferson Davis, Bragg refused to launch follow up attacks and settled down into a siege of Nashville, the whole time begging for reinforcements the Confederacy, with another ongoing campaign in Virginia, could hardly spare. In the meantime the Union was rushing reinforcements to the relief of Nashville from other parts of Tennessee and Kentucky. The clock was running against Bragg, a fact that he seemed to totally disregard.

Meanwhile in the east, General Lee moved rapidly and passed north of the Army of the Potomac which was still in Richmond. President Lincoln was disappointed with Sumner’s lack of progress since the Confederate capital fell and was adamant that Sumner now move to intercept Lee before he reached the Washington defenses. Sumner complied leaving a small force to garrison Richmond, and started to move the large Army of the Potomac north in what many believed would be the deciding battle of the war.

The Rappahannock Campaign

The Army of Northern Virginia was making impressive headway in the direction of Washington. It overcame its first obstacle by pushing through a detachment of dismounted Union cavalry at the Battle of Culpepper Courthouse on August 11, 1862. Lee’s plan was to continue to head north through Brandy Station and cross the Rappahannock River at Rappahannock Station. Once north of the Rappahannock, Lee planned on giving battle from a defensive position where Lee’s disadvantage of numbers could be marginalized. Lee had no illusions of totally destroying the Union Army but with any luck the main body of the Army of the Potomac, now approaching from the south, would be defeated and then retreat towards Washington. Lee would then turn south and reoccupy Richmond, returning the Confederate capital to Southern control and giving the South a desperately needed boost in morale.

Union commander Major General Sumner however was not merely chasing Lee north. Taking advantage of the railroad and river networks in Northern Virginia, Sumner had decided to dispatch I Corps north to be routed through Alexandria, Virginia to establish a blocking position north of the river at Rappahannock Station. I Corp was now under Major General Joseph Hooker who had recently replaced Major General Irvin McDowell as commander. Meanwhile the rest of the Union army would approached Lee from the South and box him in. In a sense it became a race against time to see who could arrive at this import river crossing first.

Major General Joseph Hooker
I Corps, Commander

Lee continued to advanced north capturing Brandy Station on August 12 but only after unexpectedly stiff resistance by the small Union garrison. The next day Lee arrived at the Rappahannock shocked to see a large number of Federal troops disembarking off trains and drawing themselves into position north of the river. Lee, it was reported, was surprised to see such a large element of the Army of the Potomac to his north instead of trailing him to the south. Lee was now faced with a decision, he could order a hasty attack across the river and keep advancing towards Washington, or remain in Brandy Station and await a Union attack. Lee chose the former but ordered a night reconnaissance of Union positions north of the river to ascertain their strength.

On the morning of August 13, Confederate scouts reported to Lee that the troops on the North bank of the Rappahannock consisted only of Hooker’s I Corps. The scouts also reported that Sumner with the rest of the Federal Army was fast approaching from the Southeast. Around 9:00 a.m. Lee assembled his commanders to discuss the situation. The Confederate forces did enjoy a numerical advantage against Hooker’s troops to the north and if they could be defeated the Army of Northern Virginia could then turn its attention to Sumner when he arrived with the Union main body. However, this plan was not without risks. Hooker’s men had spent the night entrenching and crossing the river would be tough. In the end it was decided that Hooker’s Corp should be eliminated before the arrival of Sumner. The only Confederate corps commander who voiced reservations was Major General James Longstreet who favored either skirting Hooker to the west or remain on the defensive and wait for a Union attack.

The Battle of Rappahannock Station began around noon on August 13. With only a few hours to prepare and after a brief artillery barrage, the attack commenced with Confederate troops surging against the Union positions. Yankee guns overlooking the river crossing caused considerable Confederate casualties. For over three hours Lee made steady by costly process as he managed to force the Federals back. The assault was hindered by Confederate Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart who had been ordered to flank the Federal position from East. For reasons that remain unclear to this day, Stuart maneuvered his cavalry in a dashing but ultimate to wide of an arc around the Union position so that his forces did not join the battle for nearly four hours. As twilight approached Hooker ordered his battered corps to fall back, leaving the Confederates in possession of the northern bank. Lee had scored his much hoped for victory over a Union army. However, the Confederate triumph had come at an extremely high price. A price that Lee’s already outnumbered army could hardly afford as the main body of the Army of the Potomac approached from the South.

The morning following the Battle of Rappahannock Station was a bitter sweet moment for General Robert E Lee. He had scored a victory against the North but only after suffering severe casualties to his own force. He now contemplated his next move. He could cut his losses and head South to avoid being trapped, continue to follow his original plan and turn and face Sumner somewhere north of the Rappahannock, or advance towards Washington. Lee decided that he did not possess the forces to take Washington and if he continued on towards the Union capital he was going to be running the serious risk of becoming completely cut off from his line of retreat. Falling back to the southwest, which was favored by some on his staff, was ruled out because it would not allow them to reoccupy Richmond, their chief objective. Therefore, Lee decided to advance to the town of Warrenton, Virginia located 13 miles north of Rappahannock Station and give battle to the approaching Army of the Potomac. It was also rumored that Warrenton had Union depots. Depots with food and supplies that Lee’s army desperately needed.

Battle of Warrenton

The Battle of Warrenton, which deadliest of the Civil War, started on August 18, 1862 with an inconclusive skirmish between Confederate soldiers and forward elements of Union cavalry. August 19, consisted of only sporadic skirmishes as the Confederates dug in and the Union forces drew themselves into position in a long line south of the town that curled northwards on both the eastern and western flanks. On August 20 at 7:20 a.m. Sumner launched one of the largest artillery bombardments of the war on the center of the Confederate line for over three hours. What would become known as Burnside’s Charge, named after Major General Ambrose Burnside commander of the Union IX Corps, occurred at 12:30 p.m. when Sumner ordered a full scale assault on the battered Confederate center. The wooded terrain helped mask Union movements, but after almost four hours of repeated charges and countercharges the Confederates were still able to hold onto their works. Historians have often criticized Sumner’s assault on the Confederates center, but it is important to note that it was Burnside’s Charge which forced the Confederates to weaken their left flank to reinforce their center that allowed for the decisive actions the next day.

For Lee, everything had been going according to plan. Sumner was attacking an entrenched Army of Northern Virginia and, so far, had been losing. Unfortunately for the South, Union superiority in numbers was about to decide the day. On the morning of August 21, Union Major General John Sedgwick of Connecticut launched a surprise attack against Lee’s weakened left flank. The previous night Sedgwick had convinced Sumner to not renew Burnside's attack on the Confederate center but instead reinforce his II Corps. Sumner also ordered the Union troops in the center and left to shuffle positions and make noise during the night to distract the Southerners. Sedgwick’s attack caught the Southerners off guard. Although the attack was very costly for both sides, the Army of Northern Virginia was so weakened from the previous week’s fighting that they did not have the numbers to stop the Union. By nightfall General Lee was forced to order his Army to withdraw to the northwest. Lee then began preparations for the long retreat home and began to realize that his army's chances for survival were slim. Although it will never be known for sure, total casualties for the battle are estimated around 41,000 killed, wounded, captured, and missing.

Artist's depiction of Burnside's Charge at the Battle of Warrenton

Relief of Nashville

Major General Henry Halleck
Department of the Missouri, Commander

As Bragg’s army continued to lay siege to Nashville following the failed assault on the city, the Union amassed reinforcements on the north bank of the Cumberland River. The besieged Buell was soon joined by Major General Henry Halleck the commander of the Department of the Missouri and troops from the eastern part of the state. By August 20, Bragg realized that he was now facing a much larger force. Ruling out another assault, Bragg contemplated withdrawing to Chattanooga, Tennessee before he became hopelessly outnumbered. However, orders from President Davis not the retreat and the very real fear that he would be relieved if he did prompted him to continue to dither and bombard the city.

On the morning of August 22, Buell and Halleck launched their assault against the Confederates entrenched on the outskirts of the city. Bragg’s army performed rather well and made the Federals pay dearly for any ground gained. However by 2:45 p.m. superior Union numbers and the shortage of Confederate artillery shells forced Bragg to withdraw his army. Although Bragg’s performance at Nashville has left much to criticize, Bragg did manage to facilitate an orderly withdraw allowing most of the Army of Mississippi to retreat in good order.

It is also worth noting that following the victory, Halleck ordered one of the regimental bands to play the song Battle Cry of Freedom which would in later years and after some alterations become the national anthem of the United States. (Original lyrics listed below)

“Yes we'll rally round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom,
We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor, up with the star;
While we rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

We are springing to the call with a million freemen more,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And we'll fill our vacant ranks of our brothers gone before,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!


We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And although he may be poor, not a man shall be a
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!


So we're springing to the call from the East and from the West,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And we'll hurl the rebel crew from the land we love best,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

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Emancipation and Reunion

President Lincoln and his cabinet reviewing the Proclamation for Emancipation and Restoration of the Union​

With the war going so well for the Union over the past few months, Lincoln now saw an opportunity to move on the two crucial issues of the conflict; reintegrating the southern states into the Union and slavery.

In the beginning of the war, Lincoln had been very reluctant to deal with slavery for fear of upsetting the border states. However, the recent string of Northern successes had done much to silence voices of discontent in the border regions as well as pro-peace Copperheads in the North. Following the twin victories at Warrenton and Nashville, Lincoln felt it pertinent to take the first steps towards abolishing slavery and restoring the Union. On September 1, 1862 Lincoln issued a Proclamation for Emancipation and Restoration of the Union, known as P.E.R.U. to the millions of American schoolchildren who would have to memorize passages of it over the following centuries. The Proclamation stated...

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

The Proclamation continued by stating that any state which is currently in rebellion that rejoined the Union by January 1, 1863 would be spared the effects of the Proclamation. The Proclamation spelled out the process by which states could rejoin the Union. First, by having a majority of a state’s legislature take an oath of allegiance to the government of the United States and repeal their ordinance of succession or after 10% of a state’s population had taken an oath of allegiance and formed a new state government. The Proclamation also stated that any citizen, with the exception of top tier Confederate government and military officials, would be unconditionally pardoned upon taking an oath of allegiance.

Lincoln’s reasoning for issuing the Proclamation was multifaceted. On the one hand, it was mainly a military measure which was intended to sap the slave power on which the Confederacy operated. Lincoln continued to maintain that the restoration of the Union was the chief aim of the war and that this Proclamation would only speed up the Union's victory. Secondly, it would cause even more splintering between the Confederate government and state governments as many politicians who had become disgruntled with the Davis administration might see this as a way out of the war. Thirdly, it would appease the more radical elements in Lincoln's own party who were begging for the President to deal with slavery. Lincoln doubted whether the Deep South would comply but believed that the Upper South would be seriously tempted by the proposition.

Reaction to P.E.R.U. varied considerably. Fredrick Douglas cheered the Proclamation as a step in the right direction. Other’s derided the Proclamation as it only freed slaves that were outside Federal control. Democrats generally were appalled by the Proclamation. They believed that Lincoln, yet again, had overstepped his constitutional authority. When news reached the South, Jefferson Davis lashed out at the Proclamation declaring that it was “intended to insight slave insurrection and the massacre of the white race.” The proclamation however greatly empowered Union sympathizers, conditional Unionists, and moderates who saw rejoining the Union as their last chance to save slavery in their states and avoid going down in flames with the increasingly discredited Confederate government.
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Autumn, 1862

Flag used by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee

General Lee's Retreat

While the Army of the Potomac licked its wounds following the costly victory at Warrenton, Lee and the battered Army of Northern Virginia wasted no time in heading south to safety. In a series of maneuvers and battles that military officers would study for centuries to come, Lee artfully dodged his more numerous Federal opponents. Lincoln was adamant that Sumner move swiftly and capture Lee's retreating army. Sumner however continuously underestimated General Lee who bested Union efforts to ensnare his force for the next several weeks.

The chief Union blunder of this campaign was that as Lee fell back they did not concentrate their forces against him. Sumner only sent slightly more than half of his large army against Lee leaving the more mauled units in the north to recuperate. Lee was even able to briefly re-occupy the city of Charlottesville, Virginia after he overran the small union force that had been sent to block his line of retreat.

First Lynchburg Campaign

Lee's retreat towards the southwest came to a halt at Lynchburg, a medium sized city of some 7,000 inhabitants, that the Confederate and Virginia state governments settled in after the fall of Richmond. As the largest city in Virginia still in Southern hands, not to mention the de facto national and state capital, Jefferson Davis tasked Lee to defend it.

Major General William B. Franklin
Army of Virginia, Commander

With winter approaching, Major General Sumner devised a two pronged attack to trap and annihilate Lee's army. Sumner and the bulk of the Army of the Potomac advanced from the east, while Major General William B. Franklin and the reconstituted Army of Virginia moved south out of the Shenandoah Valley. By mid October, 1862 the two Union forces were within 30 miles of Lynchburg. Lee struck first, moving north against Franklin. On the fog laden morning of October 17, the Union stumbled into an ambush at the tiny hamlet of New Glasgow near the town of Amherst. In less than three hours, Franklin was in full retreat. Moving quickly, Lee then turned east to face Sumner. Unaware of what happened at New Glasgow, Sumner was stunned when Lee attacked his troops near Appomattox Courthouse. For most of October 18, the battle raged back and forth with both sides suffering grievous casualties. At the Union council of war that evening, Sumner reluctantly decided to withdraw towards Petersburg since Franklin would no longer be able to assist him.

Having won a hard fought victory at Lynchburg, the Confederates entered winter quarters. Union forces in Virginia, reeling from this surprising loss, opted to refit and hope for better results in the spring. General Sumner, smarting over his defeat and suffering from deteriorating health, accepted President Lincoln's offer to become General in Chief of the Union Armies in Washington. While it might seem strange to promote Sumner in light of his recent failure, it opened the way for a new commander of the Army of the Potomac. For his replacement, Lincoln picked II Corp commander Major General John Sedgwick. Although junior to a number of other corps commanders, Sedgwick had performed very well at the Battles of Warrenton and Petersburg, and even held his own at Appomattox Courthouse. He was also popular with many officers in the Union Army. Sedgwick's appointment would prove a fortuitous decision in the months to come.

1862 Midterm Elections

With Richmond captured and Nashville successfully defended, the Republicans went into the November congressional elections rightfully confident of victory. To be sure, setbacks such as Lynchburg and uneasiness regarding P.E.R.U. caused some concern but weren't enough to aid the Democrats. When the votes were finally tallied the Republican majority in the House of Representatives grew from 108 to 121. The Democrats were increasingly discredited losing 13 of their 45 seats. The Constitutional Unionists increased slightly from 28 to 30 seats. In the Senate, Republicans also faired well picking up 32 seats compared to the Democrats' 8 and Contitutional Unionists' 7.

Invasion of Eastern Tennessee

Meanwhile in the Western Theater, the Union was on the verge of accomplishing one of its goals since the start of the war, the liberation of eastern Tennessee. The largely non-slave holding citizens of east Tennessee had overwhelmingly voted against succession in 1861 and continued to be a bastion of Unionism. Lincoln initially wished to liberate this mountainous region and possibly bring it into the Union as a separate state. However, by this point in the war most of western Tennessee was liberated and if the eastern part of the state could be redeemed Tennessee stood a good chance becoming the first southern state to return to the Union.

Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith
Army of Tennessee, Commander

On November 9, 1862, after leaving a sizable garrison in Nashville, the Army of the Ohio moved towards Knoxville. Major General Henry Halleck maintained operational control of Union forces after Buell’s poor performance during the early stages of the Siege of Nashville. Jefferson Davis relieved Bragg as commander of the Army of Tennessee after his failure at Nashville and appointed Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith to replace him. The Army of Tennessee was stationed in the increasingly fortified city of Chattanooga in the southern part of the state. Although Jefferson Davis urged Smith to move northeast and intercept Halleck, Smith convinced the Confederate president that it would be unwise for his battered force to move into a Unionist part of the state, with winter approaching, to engage a larger Yankee force. Therefore, most of Smith’s army remained behind its works in Chattanooga.

Advancing south towards Knoxville was relatively easy for the Union as they already had control over the Cumberland Gap since their victory there in June. The only major battle of the Knoxville Campaign occurred near Rutledge, Tennessee in late November. Despite some initial success under Confederate commander Major General Carter L. Stevenson, superior Union numbers carried the day. Nashville was liberated on December 11, 1862 after a short siege in brutally cold conditions. With Nashville captured, eastern Tennessee finally returned to Union control. Indeed the only part of the state that was still in Confederate hands was Chattanooga. As both armies finally settled into winter quarters, Unionist elements in Tennessee were making plans on their state’s return to the Union.

Investment of Vicksburg

Major General Ulysses S. Grant
Army of the Tennessee, Commander

In Mississippi, the Army of the Tennessee under Major General Ulysses S. Grant made steady progress towards the Confederate strongpoint of Vicksburg. Located on high ground overlooking a bend in the river, Vicksburg was vital for controlling the Mississippi. Grant began his campaign in November, moving south from Memphis, Tennessee. Grant had a difficult time securing his supply lines from Confederate raiders such as Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forest which slowed his progress considerably. Fortunately for the North, on December 9, 1862 Forest was killed during a failed raid on the Union supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi. Grant scored a hard fought victory at Grenada, an important junction of the Mississippi Central Railroad, against Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn's forces restyled as the Army of Mississippi. Although defeated, Van Dorn managed to safely withdraw to the state capital of Jackson.

Battle Flag used by Van Dorn's Army of Mississippi

While Grant took the overland route, his chief subordinate Major General William Tecumseh Sherman and his XV Corps made an amphibious landing directly north of Vicksburg. On December 21, at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, also known as the Battle of Walnut Hills, Sherman attempted to push directly through the swamp and capture Vicksburg. The Confederate defenders, led by Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton a Pennsylvanian who sided with the South, repulsed Sherman's attacks. Following this setback, Sherman and his 32,000 men established siege lines on Vicksburg's landward side and awaited Grant's reinforcements.
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The South’s Winter of Discontent

Tennessee Returns to the Union
As the wintering armies made their preparations for the upcoming military offensives, Tennessee politicians were busy negotiating a return to the Union. On December 23, 1862 unionist politicians held a convention in Nashville to discuss their state’s future. Most of the Confederate Tennessee state legislature boycotted the convention and remained in Chattanooga under the protection of Smith’s Army of Tennessee. However, enough of the population, mostly citizens from eastern Tennessee, had sworn allegiance to form a new state government.

As all present were Republicans, Constitutional Unionists, or Unionist Democrats the main discussion was not whether to return to the Union, but whether to return to it as a slave or free state. The debate raged for two days until finally a compromise was struck. Tennessee would petition to return as a slave state, but with a provision in the state’s new proposed constitution that would abolish slavery by January 1st, 1865. Slave-owners who took the oath of allegiance to the United States and the new state government could receive financial compensation when they emancipated their slaves. The State of Delaware had adopted a similar gradual compensated emancipation plan by a slim margin a few months earlier. Andrew Johnson the current military governor of Tennessee and the only Southern senator to have remained loyal to the United States was elected provisional governor by the assembly. William Gannaway Brownlow, a former Whig newspaper man and pastor turned radical Republican was named Speaker of the Senate, a position arguably more powerful than the governor.

Andrew Johnson
Provisional Governor of Tennessee

When Tennessee’s petition reached Congress in a special session, there was a serious chance that the Republican dominated body might reject it because it would be tantamount to readmitting a slave state. However moderate Republicans, Democrats, and support from the Lincoln administration was able to secure its passage. Therefore on December 26, 1862 Tennessee became the first Confederate state to rejoin the Union. When news reached Jefferson Davis, he lambasted it, as did many in the Deep South, as an “illegitimate attempt by abolitionists and rabble-rousers to subvert a Southern state to Northern tyranny.” However, in other parts of the Upper South, such as Virginia and Arkansas, moderates saw it as a practical compromise and continued to make their own plans for their states’ restoration to the Union.

Flag of the State of Tennessee
Adopted in 1909

The Winter Conferences
As the War entered its second winter the political situation in the Confederate States of America was deteriorating at an alarming pace. The South had introduced conscription in 1862 to shore up its manpower shortage. As Confederate fortunes declined in the second half of 1862 the central government ever increasingly drew men and supplies form the various Southern states. Jefferson Davis’s heavy handed approach coupled with his apparently disastrous handling of the war so far began to form fissures in the Confederate political establishment. Those that opposed Davis’s centralizing policies include several Southern state governors who resented their men and supplies being sent out of state. The most prominent of which were Joseph Brown, Zebulon Vance, and Pendleton Murrah the governors of Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas respectively. Another prominent Southern dissenter against the Davis administration was none other than Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia.
In early January 1863, Jefferson Davis called a series of meetings with prominent Confederate leaders in the Southern capital of Lynchburg, Virginia. Those present included Davis’s cabinet, Alexander Stephens, Confederate congressional leadership, representatives from certain state governments, and military leaders including General Robert E. Lee. At these meetings, now known to historians as the Winter Conferences, Davis was deeply disturbed by the defeatist attitudes of many of the political leaders. Davis believed that although the South had suffered alarming setbacks in the past months the cause was not lost. If the full might of the South’s resources could be effectively pooled, the Confederate President continued to maintain, the Confederacy could reverse its recent defeats and grind the North down until the Union was forced to recognize Southern independence.

Therefore at the end of these Winter Conferences, in order to shore up the depleted Confederate ranks, Davis and the Confederate Secretary for War James Seddon lobbied for what became known as the Davis-Seddon Act which called for increased conscription, allowed for the suppression of seditious talk and media, and granted the Confederate government increased powers in procuring supplies from the various Southern states. Although ultimately enacted, this proposal sparked enormously hostile debate in the Confederate Congress and the various state governments as many politicians balked at the idea of rendering more men and supplies to the central government while their own states appeared to be on the verge of invasion. Indeed it seemed to challenge the very notion of state’s rights that the Confederacy was supposedly founded upon.
Lincoln's Plan for Victory

As Confederate leaders made their plans during these quieter winter months so did the Union government. In January, 1863 President Lincoln helped devise the North’s plan to win the war with advise from, General in Chief Sumner, Secretary or War Stanton, Secretary of the Navy Welles, and Major General Sedgwick who was called up from Petersburg. With reports of Southern political turmoil over conscription and Davis’s handling of the war, Lincoln believed that as soon as possible all of the Union’s armies should move against their Confederate counterparts. This simultaneous pressure all along the borders of the Confederacy would, Lincoln hoped, make the best use of the North’s superiority in numbers and not allow the Confederacy to use its interior lines to shuffle troops from front to front.

Lincoln’s intentions were to try and peel off the states of the Upper South, and Texas if possible, and bring them back into the Union first as they had the largest numbers of Unionist citizens. The decision to move into Texas an Arkansas however was not very popular with many in the Union military. Sumner and Stanton argued that with Vicksburg likely to fall soon, Arkansas and Texas would be cut off and could be left to wither on the vine. Lincoln however believed that with these states cut off from the Confederacy they would be more likely to rejoin the Union. Lincoln was also adamant about establishing a presence in Texas to send a signal to the French troops in Mexico that, as Lincoln put it to an aide, “they ain’t welcome in this hemisphere.”

The North's plan involved a number of coordinated movements. Major General Benjamin Butler’s Army of the Gulf would push north, taking Port Hudson on the Mississippi and liberate the rest of Louisiana. Following this Butler would turn west and push into Texas. Major General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, after taking Vicksburg some time in the winter, would split up. Two Corps under the command of Major General William T. Sherman, later known as the Army of the Mississippi, would move into Arkansas where unionist sympathies were believed to be on the rise. Grant aided by reinforcements from the north would head east and take central Mississippi. Meanwhile, Halleck would take his Army of the Ohio liberate Chattanooga, and then push on and capture the key railroad junction of the City of Atlanta. Sedgwick with the Army of the Potomac, the Union’s largest formation, would move against Lee at Lynchburg capturing the Confederate capital. Together, so it was thought, these offensives would finish liberating the states of Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, take most of Texas and Arkansas, and for the second time capture the Confederate capital. In short, if successful the war could be over in a matter of months.
Fall of Vicksburg

After besting the Van Dorn's Confederates at Grenada, Major General Ulysses S Grant with the main body of the Army of the Tennessee joined Sherman's XV Corp in the siege works around Vicksburg, swelling Union numbers to over 80,000. Sherman had been pounding away at the Confederate defenses for over a month. Confederate Lieutenant General Permberton’s troop strength had been reduced to a mere 27,000 and his men were running dangerously low of artillery shells.

From February 14 to 16, the Union army blasted the Confederate works with over 200 pieces of artillery. This barrage was supplemented from the river by Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s gunboats. On the morning of February 17, Grant ordered an assault against the northern Vicksburg defenses which were easily repulsed. Undeterred, Grant ordered two more attacks on the 18 and 20 which meet with similar defeat.

Following these failures, Grant began to prepare for a new assault to be led by Sherman's XV Corps. This assault was to be preceded by a feint in the south by Major General John Parke’s IX Corps. While Confederate attentions were distracted to the south, Sherman’s forces attacked after a ferocious but short artillery barrage. The XV Corps advanced in loose formation, taking advantage of all possible cover, and seized a section of the Confederate northern defenses. By the time the assault ended on the evening of February 20, a gaping hole existed in the Confederate lines.

The next day, Grant offered terms to the battered Confederates. If they surrendered their arms and swore never to fight against the government of the United States they would be paroled. With the breach in the Confederate lines and the near depletion of their ammunition Pemberton was forced to agree. The city and defenses of Vicksburg surrendered the following day on February 22, 1863. Port Hudson, Vicksburg’s Louisianan counterpart would surrender to Major General Butler’s Army of the Gulf a few days later after news of Vicksburg fall reached the poorly supplied Confederate garrison. Together, the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in February 1863 finally returned control of the continent’s greatest river to the United States.

Louisiana Rejoins the Union

With the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Unionist politicians in Louisiana decided the time was finally right to restore the state to the Union. Meeting in Baton Rouge, a new constitution abolishing slavery was adopted. The relatively conservative Republican James Madison Wells was soon elected as the state's new governor. Congress officially recognized Well's government on March 1, 1863. The Confederate state government in Shreveport continued to control a third of the state but could do little to oppose the Federals. The only sizable Confederate formation in the region was the Army of Western Louisiana now command by Major General Richard Taylor under General Joseph E. Johnston's Trans-Mississippi Department but could only harass the more numerous Yankees.

Flag of the State of Louisiana
Adopted in 1905
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The Fall of Virginia

Confederate earthworks protecting Lynchburg

Second Lynchburg Campaign

Since November of 1862, the Armies of the Potomac and of Northern Virginia had done little more than skirmish with each other. Lee’s forces had turned the countryside around Lynchburg into a proverbial fortress with a series of forts, redoubts, and defensive positions ringing the city and protecting the railway which served as the city's lifeline to the rest of the Confederacy. Sedgwick’s army had been preoccupied for most of the winter with suppressing guerrilla bands and occupying the rest of Virginia.

Major General John Sedgwick
Army of the Potomac, Commander

On the Ides of March, components of the Army of the Potomac started making their way west from Petersburg. Unlike Sumner's push towards Lynchburg the previous year, Sedgwick kept his forces consolidated. Altogether, these forces totaled 120,000 men. However, tens of thousands of these were used for logistical support and securing the army’s lines of communications. Behind the formidable Lynchburg trenches laid Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Despite repeated pleas for support, by the dawn of spring Lee's Army consisted of only 45,000 men under arms.

The first battle of this second campaign against Lynchburg occurred when forward Confederate elements ambushed a reconnaissance detachment of Union cavalry on March 23, 1863. As would be the story for most of the campaign, Southern forces performed well until superior Union numbers forced their withdrawal due to fear of encirclement. In a similar fashion on April 1 at the Second Battle of Appomattox Courthouse, Confederates under the immediate command of Lieutenant General James Longstreet held up nearly twice their number for two days until Union cavalry threatened to cut off their line of retreat. On April 13, Union forces south of Lynchburg at the Battle of Campbell Courthouse were able to evict the Confederate garrison only after a costly assault.

The Surrender of General Lee

By April 20, 1863 Major General John Sedgwick’s Army of the Potomac had encircled nearly 75% of the Lynchburg defenses. The remaining open portion included the railroad to the west which served as the city’s lifeline to the rest Confederacy. The Confederates were doing their utmost to keep the railway open through a series of counterattacks and flanking movements by Southern cavalry to draw off Union forces. For the next 30 days Federal forces continued to close the vise of Lynchburg. By the first of May, the Confederate Virginia politicians who had taken refuge in the city during the winter had all fled into North Carolina, as had most other Confederate officials. The notable exception being President Jefferson Davis, who, much to the annoyance of General Lee, was determined to remain in the city as long as possible. On May 20, 1863 General Lee informed President Davis that he must leave the city as the window for escape was closing fast. Lee informed Davis that he and many of his fellow Virginians would stay behind and perform a rearguard action as he and units from other states escaped towards safety. Davis seeing the writing on the wall reluctantly accepted.

On May 21, Davis and a sizeable number of the remaining Confederate soldiers under Major General Richard H. Anderson of South Carolina managed to leave Lynchburg and slip into the relative safety of western North Carolina. On May 23, the Tennessee-Virginia Railway was cut by Union troops and the city completely surrounded. Two days later on May 25, and only hours before the Union was to launch a massive assault against the city, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Major General Sedgwick at his headquarters in a local farmhouse. Thus, nearly the entirety of the Commonwealth of Virginia was now back in the control of the United States.
The roughly 18,000 troops that were captured in Lynchburg were disarmed and paroled. This number included Lieutenant General James Longstreet who was still recovering from serious wounds suffered at Campbell Courthouse, and General Lee who was surprised and deeply touched by Sedgwick’s benevolence. This started a close friendship between Sedgwick and Lee that would last until Lee’s death several years later. Sedgwick would serve as one of Lee’s pallbearers at his funeral in 1871.

Virginia Returns to the Union

Meanwhile, Virginia politicians had been meeting in Richmond for much of the campaign and were hotly debating whether Virginia should return to the Union as one or two states. News of Lee’s surrender did much to break the legislative deadlock. By a three vote margin Virginia voted to return to the Union as a single state. The portions of Virginia exempt form the P.E.R.U.’s provisions on slavery, opted for compensated gradual emancipation in much the same way as Delaware and Tennessee. Virginia set January 1, 1866 as its date for complete emancipation. Virginia’s proposal for readmission was narrowly accepted by Congress on June 5. Arthur Ingram Boreman, a Republican politician from Tyler County in western Virginia, was elected governor.

Flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia
Adopted in 1899
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The Trans-Mississippi Theater

Major General William T. Sherman on horseback in Arkansas
May, 1863

Sherman’s March through Arkansas

After the fall of Vicksburg on the February 22, 1863 Major General Grant, as planned divided his forces. Two corps totaling roughly 34,000 men under the command of Major General William T. Sherman headed northwest into Confederate held Arkansas. Sherman entered Arkansas months after the P.E.R.U. had legally freed all the slaves in the state. As Sherman advanced towards the state capital of Little Rock, his troops, now designated as the Army of the Mississippi, freed thousands of slaves many of whom tried to follow his army for protection.

Sherman’s march through Arkansas is also noteworthy in the way he managed his logistics. Instead of maintaining a long and precarious supply train from the Mississippi River, Sherman decided that his forces could “live off the fat of the land” on the unspoiled Arkansas countryside. This was a dangerous move to conduct so early in the spring, and the Union forces procurement of local food and fodder angered many Southerners. Although Sherman became a reviled figure to many Arkansans the actual damage done by his army was minimal and mostly fell on wealthy slave holders.

In order to defend the state capital, Confederate Major General Sterling Price began amassing his forces in Little Rock. Sherman’s rapid advance through the state however gave Price little time to properly fortify the city or train his new recruits, many of which had been harshly pressed into service. On May 2, 1863 Sherman’s Army of the Mississippi engaged Price’s troops in the Battle of Little Rock. Major General Price was mortally wounded by Union artillery early in the battle, and chaos reigned as Confederate troops fled their still unfinished trenches. The next morning, Sherman triumphantly entered the city. The raising of the Stars and Stripes over the statehouse was accompanied by the singing of the Battle Cry of Freedom by local Unionists, who had remained dormant since the start of the war but were now cropping up in ever greater numbers.

Butler’s Defeat

Following the capture of Port Hudson, Major General Benjamin Butler and his Army of the Gulf launched Lincoln’s long awaited invasion of Texas. Unfortunately for the North the campaign would end in one of the worst Union defeats of the war. Beginning on April 29, 1863 the two day Battle of Carthage, Texas saw Butler’s forces soundly defeated by the numerically inferior Army of Western Louisiana under Major General Richard Taylor. Butler was forced to retreat back into Louisiana, where Lincoln promptly relieved him of command, replacing him with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks. Back in Louisiana, Banks waited on Sherman to complete his campaign so they could combine forces and make a second attempt at invading Texas. This defeat was a serious setback for pro-Union elements in Texas and a major factor in Texas remaining in the Confederacy.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks
Army of the Gulf, Commander
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Tennessee and Mississippi

Chatanooga, Tennessee
March, 1863

Changing of the Guard
In March, the General in Chief of the Union Armies, Major General Edwin V. Sumner died of a heart attack at his headquarters in Washington D.C. After some lengthy deliberation President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton appointed Major General Henry Halleck to fill the position. Some have argued that Halleck's selection had more to do with relieving tensions in the western theater caused by Halleck's divisive and jealous temperament. Major General Don Carlos Buell was transferred to become head of the Department of the Missouri. Major General George Henry Thomas, a Virginian who had sided with the Union, became the new commander for the Army of the Ohio.
The Siege of Chattanooga

Major General George Henry Thomas
Army of the Ohio, Commander

On April 1, 1863 Major General Thomas with his 47,000 strong Army of the Ohio moved against Edmund Kirby Smith, now a full general, and his 28,000 man Army of Tennessee which had spent the winter fortifying the city of Chattanooga. Smith’s army had been severely weakened due to President Jefferson Davis siphoning troops away from the army to be sent to General Lee in Virginia or to Van Dorn's Army of Mississippi, which was being formed to defend Jackson, Mississippi from Grant. In the ensuing campaign, Smith proved to be a master of defense. However, as the Confederacy was being pressed in all theatres by superior Union numbers and internally by the ever widening schisms in the Southern political establishment Smith was never able to concentrate enough forces to repel Thomas’s advancing army.

The Siege of Chattanooga began on April 16, 1863 when the Army of the Ohio bombarded Smith’s outer defenses. General Smith was able to stall Thomas’s assaults through a series of well organize counterattacks that always seemed to shore up Confederate lines just as they were about to break. However, when news of Lee’s surrender at Lynchburg reached Smith's command post he knew that his days in Chattanooga were numbered as vast Union reinforcements would soon be on their way to encircle his dwindling army. On June 2, 1863 Smith withdrew from Chattanooga towards Georgia. Smith’s plan was to take advantage of the hilly north Georgia countryside and fight a series of defensive battles as he fell back towards Atlanta along the Chattanooga-Atlanta railway.

Chattanooga after being set on fire by retreating Confederates
June 2, 1863

Before the Confederates left however, they set fire to many of the militarily important buildings in the city. Unfortunately for the citizens of Chattanooga the fire quickly spread and soon ravaged the majority of the already battered city. The burning of Chattanooga was significant as it was one of the few cities to be so utterly destroyed during the course of the war. Furthermore the city's apparent destruction at the hands of Confederate troops sent shockwaves throughout the South that the Confederacy would now do anything to prevent its cities from falling into Yankee hands. This strengthened the already growing peace faction in the Confederate government who saw quickly ending the war as their only chance for survival.

Battle of Jackson

Major General Earl Van Dorn
Army of Mississippi, Commander

As Sherman was advancing on Little Rock and Butler was blundering into Texas, Major General Ulysses S. Grant was pushing east towards Jackson, Mississippi with his 40,000 man Army of the Tennessee. Jackson, the state capital, was defended by Mississippi native, Major General Earl Van Dorn who could muster less than 25,000 troops, many of which were state militia. Now, with Mississippi threatened, President Davis was rushing troops from other theaters to defend his native state.

The Battle of Jackson took place on April 19, 1863. During the battle Grant decisively defeated Van Dorn’s army which was still in the process of forming. To his credit, when it became clear that the more numerous and better equipped Union army was going to emerge victorious, Van Dorn withdrew his troops in good order and headed east towards Alabama. Grant, as was his fashion, followed closely on the Confederates' heels. Grant’s pursuit of Van Dorn became known as the “Great Dixie Derby”. Jefferson Davis would soon relieve Van Dorn, and replace him with General John Bell Hood of Kentucky.
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Southern Collapse

An artist's stylized depiction of the Confederate capital's return to Montgomery, Alabama in June, 1863

War in the Carolinas

General Richard H. Anderson
Army of the Carolinas, Commander

After Lee’s surrender at Lynchburg, Major General Sedgwick wasted no time in heading south to capture the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia, now referred to as the Army of the Carolinas. President Jefferson Davis realized that Richard H. Anderson, who was quickly promoted to full general, and his Army of the Carolinas was in no condition to face Sedgwick. With only 21,000 men, Anderson planned on flanking Sedgwick’s Army of the Potomac and wreaking havoc in the Union’s rear, possibly even reinvading Virginia. However, General Sedgwick’s superior numbers allowed him to block Anderson at every turn forcing him to fall back further south.
On May 24, 1863 a Union Army-Navy taskforce under Admiral David Farragut and Major General Ambrose Burnside landed on James Island near the entrance of Charleston Harbor. The Charleston defenses were under the command of the Confederate hero of Fort Sumter, General P.G.T. Beauregard. Burnside laid siege to Battery Wagner with the ultimate goal of taking the largest remaining city in the Confederacy.
Southern capital moves back to Montgomery
Having already fled Lynchburg before it fell, Jefferson Davis's government need to establish a new capital. However unlike earlier in the war, many Southern governors now saw harboring the Confederate Government as more of a liability than an asset. Atlanta or a city in North Carolina were ruled out due to the hostility of the state governments. Governor of Georgia Joseph E. Brown even stated that the central government should “find another place to end its days.” Davis suggested that the capital be moved to either Charleston or Columbia, South Carolina until news came that Union forces had landed on James Island near the Charleston Harbor. Therefore the remaining members of the Confederate Congress decided to return the capital to Montgomery, Alabama.

The Confederate Civil War

What some Civil War historians call “The Confederate Civil War” began in earnest on June 15, 1863 when in a surprising move Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens confronted President Davis in his makeshift office in Montgomery. Stephens claimed that the war was lost and that Davis should either sue for peace with Lincoln or resign as President. Jefferson Davis, whose relationship with Stephens was already severely strained, was deeply troubled at what he took to be treasonous comments from his Vice President. Davis stated that he had sworn to uphold the Confederate constitution and would do so for as long as he was able. Stephens then replied that if that was Davis’s answer he would be left with no choice but to urge Congress to impeach Davis.

The legality of impeaching Davis, presumably because of his abysmal conduct in running the war, was and has been hotly debated to this day. The constitution of the Confederate States of America maintains that the president may be impeached fortreason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Davis believed that the impeachment charges that he was brought up on were, at the very least baseless and more likely open treason against the Commander and Chief during wartime. For the next four days the so-called “Battle of Montgomery” raged as the Confederate capital became the scene of passionate debates, street battles, as both Davis and Stephens’s supporters clamored for votes. Some leaders even moved troops into the city to support their respective causes. However on June 19, Jefferson Davis received barely enough votes to stop from being removed as President of the Confederacy.

News of the “Battle of Montgomery” did much to discredit the Confederate government else wear in the South. As the Army of the Potomac was chasing Anderson’s forces across the state, Governor of North Carolina Zebulon Vance, a long time critic of Jefferson Davis, asked the state legislature to secede from the Confederacy. This was do to the central government’s apparent inability to defend the state and in an effort to stave off further destruction. On June 23, 1863 the state narrowly passed its second ordinance of secession in three years. Georgia followed North Carolina out of the Confederacy three days later. As such, Georgia and North Carolina troops started leaving the Confederate armies in droves.

The Surrender of Smith and Anderson

With North Carolina and Georgia now technically out of the Confederacy, the Confederate armies' positions within those states became untenable. Through a double envelopment Major General Sedgwick was able to trap Anderson’s army outside of Salisbury, North Carolina on June 27. Anderson was forced to surrender his battered and starving forces two days later.

Meanwhile in Georgia, Thomas’s Army of the Ohio inflicted a crippling defeat on Smith’s dwindling Army of Tennessee at Resaca on June 29. The devastating news of Anderson’s surrender in North Carolina reached Johnston the next day. This information along with the fact that the Georgia government would no longer supply his forces made Smith surrender his disintegrating army on July 1, 1863.
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The End of the Confederacy

Painting of Confederate troops surrendering their colors after the Battle of Selma
The Impeachment of Jefferson Davis

Alexander Stephens of Georgia
2nd President of the Confederacy
3-4 July, 1863

The succession of North Carolina and Georgia, coupled by the twin capitulations of the Confederate Armies of the Carolinas and Tennessee was the last straw for the Davis administration. Unlike the effort to remove Davis two weeks earlier, this result was never in doubt. On July 3, 1863 the Confederate Congress formally impeached and removed Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. Vice President Alexander Stephens was sworn in as the second and last Confederate President at noon in a somber ceremony.

Battle of Selma

General John Bell Hood
Army of Mississippi, Commander

On the same afternoon news reached President Stephens that Major General Grant had finally caught up with General John Bell Hood's Army of Mississippi only 50 miles west of Montgomery at Selma. During the brief but costly battle, General Hood tried in vain to stem the relentless Yankee tide. Cutoff and surrounded, Hood was forced to surrender around noon after a few hours of desperate fighting.

Dissolution of the Confederate States of America

In light on the disastrous developments of the past weeks, President Alexander Stephens and the remaining members of Congress officially dissolved the Confederate States of America in a tearful cession at 10:00am on July 4, 1863 as the Star and Bars was lowered for the last time from over the city. When news reached the North later that day, it sparked off the greatest Independence Day celebrations that the nation had ever seen. In a torch light speech delivered to an audience on the White House lawn President Abraham Lincoln stated that “the Almighty God has seen fit to bless us with victory in this great civil war, but it will be up to us to win the peace.”


Confederate States of America
February 8, 1861 - July 4, 1863
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Start of Reconciliation
July-September, 1863


Union victory parade in Washington D.C.
July, 1863

Following the dissolution of the Confederacy in early July the rest of the South not already subjugated fell to the North in rapid succession. The advancing Union armies wasted no time occupying the state capitals not already under their control. On their way Federal forces enforced the P.E.R.U, freeing hundreds of thousands of slaves in a matter of weeks. The State of Texas, which had remained basically free of Union troops during the war, was the last Southern state to be occupied. When Major General Sherman’s army arrived in the state capital of Austin at the end of July Sherman proclaimed that under the P.E.R.U all slaves in Texas were now and forever free. For this reason July 29th is often celebrated as Emancipation Day in many parts of the United States.

Throughout the South, the defeated Confederate forces were almost invariable paroled after their military munitions had been confiscated. The few exceptions were top military and political leaders such as Jefferson Davis who was arrested by Ulysses S. Grant’s forces as the former Confederate president was making his way through Mississippi. Davis would spend several months in prison before eventually being pardoned by President Lincoln. Davis, who was still immensely unpopular in the South for his conduct in managing the war, went into exile in Europe for the rest of his life. Jefferson Davis would die in London in 1873 of phenomena never having returned to the United States. Other former Confederate generals and politicians, such as Alexander Stephens, would spend short stints in prison before being released. Many of these leaders would be banned from voting or holding elected office for the rest of their lives.

In what would become known as Reconciliation, Lincoln outlined his top priorities for the post-war United States. First, the return of all Southern states still outside of the Union under his 10 percent plan. Second, ensure that the P.E.R.U is enforced in the Deep South. Third, complete the compensated emancipation of slaves in the Border States, Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Lastly, establish a new Homestead Act that would provide land grants to settlers, including freed slaves, in the western territories. It is also worth noting that with the war now over Lincoln began the movement of troops to the Rio Grande under Major General Sherman to send a message to the French forces, who had recently captured the Mexican capital, that their presence was not welcomed.

In the end, the American Civil War proved to be the costliest war in American history up to that time, resulting in an estimated 315,000 deaths both North and South. Property damage although significant was relatively light considering the scope of the war. Indeed of all Southern cities, Chattanooga stands out as the most damaged, while other major urban centers such as Richmond, Atlanta, and New Orleans emerged from the conflict relatively intact. Slavery was virtually destroyed by the war. The "peculiar institution" remained only in a strip of states in the center of the country, all of which had plans for complete emancipation within a few years.
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French Withdrawal from Mexico
October 1863-January 1864

Emperor of the French, Napoleon III​

The French, along with the British and Spanish, had invaded Mexico in early 1862 with the stated intention to force Mexico to pay debts owed to the European Powers. It soon became apparent to the British and Spaniards though that the Second French Empire under Emperor Napoleon III was actually intent on conquering the Latin American country. Accordingly, Britain and Spain withdrew from Mexico a few months later. Unfortunately for the reformist government of Mexican President Benito Juarez, the French stayed and were able to successful capture the Mexican capital in June of 1863.

With the Civil War now won, President Lincoln was adamant that France’s violation of the Monroe Doctrine would not stand. Lincoln, having already moved thousands of Federal troops to the Mexican border, ordered a naval blockade in October of 1863 to block the arrival of French reinforcements. This blockade, coupled with Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian’s earlier rejection of an offer to be made Emperor of Mexico, forced the French Emperor to rethink his intentions. Bereft of British and Spanish assistance Napoleon III realized that he could not risk a war with the United States whose army and navy were still swollen from the Civil War.

In light of what was widely viewed to be a situation that would only deteriorate for the French, Napoleon III made the decision to get out while he was ahead. In a deal mediated by the United States in January of 1864, it was agreed that French troops would be withdrawn if President Benito Juarez would promise to honor Mexico’s debts to France. With French forces occupying Mexico City, and therefore little room to maneuver politically, President Juarez reluctantly accepted.

This agreement allowed all sides to claim victory. France had achieved it stated war aim, although it was far short of Napoleon III’s real desire to build a an empire in the New World, and showed that Napoleonic France was a major world power able to project itself anywhere in the world. Lincoln successfully upheld the Monroe doctrine and earned himself additional political capital as he moved towards reelection. In the end Mexico was liberated and President Juarez was able to consolidate his power from the conservatives who had backed the French.

Despite all sides apparently achieving their goals, this near-conflict caused considerable tension between the United States and France. Historians would often point to this as the beginning of a Franco-American hostility that would last well into the twentieth century. Mexican-American relations however were improved by Lincoln’s stand against the French, furthering the United States’ reputation as, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin once said, the “Defender of the Hemisphere.”
Abraham Lincoln's Second Term

1864 President Election

Incumbent Abraham Lincoln headed into the 1864 Presidential elections with a commanding lead being at the time one of the most popular presidents in American history due to his successful completion of the war and forcing France’s withdraw from Mexico. As such, Lincoln was unanimously nominated as the presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Baltimore. At the convention there was considerable talk of dropping Vice President Hannibal Hamlin from the ticket. Major General Sedgwick was mentioned as a possible replacement but Sedgwick decided instead to run for the governorship of Connecticut, which he easily won. In the end, Hamlin was left on to appease the more radical elements in the Republican Party although some republicans decided to back John C. Freemont as a third party candidate who favored a more assertive stance towards the vanquished South.

Horatio Seymour
Presidential Canidate (D)
New York

The Democrats at their national convention had considerable difficulty in finding a suitable candidate for President. Andrew Johnson the current Governor of Tennessee seemed to be a good choice, but Johnson made it clear that he would not run against the man that “saved my beloved Union.” More candidly, Johnson also realized that Lincoln was almost certainly going to win reelection. After much debate the Democrats finally nominated former New York Governor Horatio Seymour for President. Lazarus W. Powell, a former governor and current senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky was chosen as the Vice Presidential nominee.

As predicted, Lincoln easily won reelection to a second term. Seymour carried only the former Confederate states allowed to vote and Kentucky. Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Florida did not participate as they would not fully return to the Union until 1865 due to their proposed state constitutions not meeting the standards of the Republican controlled Congress. Lincoln’s reelection was seriously aided by the huge number of Union war veterans who would be a main source of support for the Republicans for decades to come.


Reconciliation, as the process of reintegrating the South into the Union became known, was Lincoln’s primary concern during his second term. By November of 1865 all the former Confederate sates were successfully readmitted into the Union, with South Carolina being the last to rejoin. Union troops however still occupied several Southern cities to protect the newly freed black population and prevent any lingering Confederate sentiments from reigniting the conflict. Unfortunately, violence towards freed blacks was all too common and several white vigilante groups arose terrifying the black populace.

One of the key planks in Lincoln’s campaign platform was for a constitutional amendment to officially ban slavery in the United States. However, three-fourths of the state legislatures would be needed to ratify the amendment. This meant that some sort of deal would have to be struck with the southern states in order to gain their votes. Thus, in what sometimes is termed as the compromise of 1865, it was agreed that Federal troops would be removed from most of the South once the Southern states had ratified the thirteenth amendment.

13th Amendment

The thirteenth amendment to the constitution was ratified on December 3rd, 1865 stating…

Sec. 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction, after June 1, 1867.

Sec. 2: Congress, in conjunction with the states, shall have power to enforce earlier emancipation, or to provide recompense for emancipation, prior to June 1, 1867, upon due consideration of the subject's participation in rebellion against the Constitution of the United States.

Sec. 3: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

June 1, 1867 was chosen as the date for final emancipation so that the few remaining slave states would have time to complete their earlier agreed upon timetables for gradual compensated emancipation.

Western Expansion

The Homestead Act of 1865 was another of the Lincoln administration’s crowning achievements. This act provided 40 acres and supplies to start up a small farm to any single man or family who would uproot and settle in the United States’ western territories. This offer also applied to the recently freed, or soon to be free, blacks of the former Confederacy. Over the next two and half decades ,millions of American citizens would take the trek west, including a large number of blacks fleeing the vengeful acts of Southern whites. In years to come, the significant number of African American landowners in western states would play an important role in the Civil Rights movement of the twentieth century.

During Lincoln's second term Nevada and Nebraska were admitted to the Union on September 2, 1864 and December 15, 1866 becoming the 35th and 36th states respectively.

In 1867, Lincoln reluctantly authorized Secretary of State William H. Seward to purchase Alaska from the Russian Empire for 7.5 million dollars. Although Lincoln was not a big proponent of American expansion, the near war with France over Mexico taught Lincoln that the less territory the Europeans held in the New World the better. The purchase was derided by many newspapers who thought it an ridiculous sum for a veritable frozen wilderness.

Another significant event of the late 1860s was the opening of the transcontinental railroad. This cross continent railway was officially completed on October 23rd, 1868 shortening a trip that once took months to a few days. Soon after Lincoln, became the first president to visit the west coast. However, it is worth mentioning that the popular urban legend that Lincoln drove in the golden spike to complete the railroad is false as can be seen in the photograph below.

Completion of the Trancontintal Railroad
October 23, 1868

Foreign Developments

In Europe the Kingdom of Prussia triumphed over the Austrian Empire in a brief war in 1866. This victory, coupled with that over Denmark in 1864, sent shock waves through the continent that Prussia was a power to be dealt with. However, following Prussia’s victory in the Austro-Prussian War, Prussian Chancellor Otto Van Bismarck was unable to forge an alliance with their defeated foe after Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I and Crown Prince Rudolf were assassinated by the deranged father of a fallen Austrian soldier in the streets of Vienna on November 29th, 1866. Franz Joseph was succeeded to the throne by his younger brother Ferdinand Maximilian who was crowned Emperor Maximilian I. Unlike his older brother, Maximilian I favored forming an alliance against the emerging power of Prussia. Soon after his coronation the new emperor established an alliance with Napoleon III of France. It has been speculated that Napoleon III and Maximilian's friendship might have been aided by the rumor that Maximilian was actually fathered by Napoleon II during his time in Austria. The Franco-Austrian Alliance would become a fixture in European politics for decades to come.

Maximilian I
Emperor of Austria

Lincoln after the White House

Refusing to run for a third term, Lincoln retired to his home in Springfield, Illinois. There Lincoln would write his memoirs which became an international bestseller and to this day considered by many historians to be one of the best presidential memoirs ever written. In the later years of his life, Lincoln would often express regret that he did not press for more sweeping reforms during Reconciliation for former slaves. Lincoln would stay active until his death, writing books and going on several well publicized speaking tours throughout the United States and Europe. Abraham Lincoln passed away in his Springfield home at the age of 78 on July 4th, 1887, the same day of the year as Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Lincoln’s funeral was one of the largest in American history a fitting capstone to one of the country's greatest presidents.

Abraham Lincoln's Home
Springfield, Illinois​
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The 1868 Presidential Election

An old wartime photograph of John Sedgwick
Republican from Connecticut
17th President of the United States

Although Abraham Lincoln’s popularity waned somewhat during his last years of office, most historians still believe he could have won reelection for President a second time. However, Lincoln decided to honor Washington’s precedent and not run for a third term. The declining health of his wife Mary Todd Lincoln might also have contributed to Lincoln’s desire to retire from political life.

At the 1868 Republican National Convention former Major General and General in Chief of the Union Armies John Sedgwick was selected as the Republican’s presidential candidate. Sedgwick, the current Republican Governor of Connecticut, easily obtained his party’s nomination without any serious opposition. For Vice President the Grand Old Party nominated the former and first Republican Governor of Virginia Arthur Ingram Boreman, illustrating the headway that the Republican Party was making in the Upper South.

Arthur I. Boreman
Republican from Virginia
16th Vice President of the United States

The Democrats re-nominated Horatio Seymour of New York to be their presidential nominee. For Vice President however, the popular governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson was selected as Seymour’s running mate.

The election results of 1868 closely mirrored those of 1864. The Republicans carried all of the northern states as well as the western states of California, Oregon, and Nevada. Seymour delivered much the same performance as he did four years earlier except that Kentucky narrowly went for the Republicans. It is also worth noting that although Virginia’s electoral votes went for Seymour, the Republican Party was able to capture a significant portion of the popular vote, including virtually all of the mountainous western part of the state. In the end, John Sedgwick was soundly elected the 17th President of the United States.