The Civil War
The Civil War was a war of epic proportion. Never before,
and not since, have so many Americans died in battle. The
American Civil War was truly tragic in terms of human life.
The war was beginning to end by January of 1865. By then,
Federal (Federal was another name given to the Union Army)
armies were spread throughout the Confederacy and the
Confederate Army had diminished in size. In the year
before, the North had lost an enormous amount of lives, but
had more than enough to lose in comparison to the South.
General Grant became known as the "Butcher" (Grant, Ulysses
S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, New York: Charles L.
Webster & Co.,1894) and many wanted to see him removed. But
Lincoln stood firm with his General, and the war continued.
In September of 1864, General William T. Sherman and his
army cleared the city of Atlanta of its civilian
population, then rested ever so briefly. It was from there
that General Sherman and his army began its famous "march
to the sea". The march covered a distance of 400 miles and
was 60 miles wide on the way. For 32 days, no news of him
reached the North. He had cut himself off from his base of
supplies, and his men lived on whatever they could get from
the country through which they passed. On their route, the
army destroyed anything and everything that they could not
use but was presumed usable to the enemy. In view of this
destruction, it is understandable that Sherman quoted "war
is hell" (Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William
T. Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972).
Finally, on December 20, Sherman's men reached the city of
Savannah and from there Sherman telegraphed to President
Lincoln: "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city
of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition,
and also about 25,000 bales of cotton" (Sherman, William
T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport,
Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972).
Grant had decided that the only way to win and finish the
war would be to crunch with numbers. He knew that the
Federal forces held more than a modest advantage in terms
of men and supplies. This in mind, Grant directed Sherman
to turn around now and start heading back toward Virginia.
He immediately started making preparations to provide
assistance to Sherman on the journey. General John M.
Schofield and his men were to detach from the Army of the
Cumberland, which had just embarrassingly defeated the
Confederates at Nashville, and proceed toward North
Carolina. His final destination was to be Goldsboro, which
was roughly half the distance between Savannah and
Richmond. This is where he and his 20,000 troops would meet
Sherman and his 50,000 troops.
Sherman began the move north in mid-January of 1865. The
only hope of Confederate resistance would be supplied by
General P.G.T. Beauregard. He was scraping together an army
with every resource he could lay his hands on, but at best
would only be able to muster about 30,000 men. This by
obvious mathematics would be no challenge to the combined
forces of Schofield and Sherman, let alone Sherman.
Sherman's plan was to march through South Carolina all the
while confusing the enemy. His men would march in two
ranks: One would travel northwest to give the impression of
a press against Augusta and the other would march northeast
toward Charleston. However the one true objective would be
Sherman's force arrived in Columbia on February 16. The
city was burned to the ground and great controversy was to
arise. The Confederates claimed that Sherman's men set the
fires "deliberately, systematically, and atrociously".
However, Sherman claimed that the fires were burning when
they arrived. The fires had been set to cotton bales by
Confederate Calvary to prevent the Federal Army from
getting them and the high winds quickly spread the fire.
The controversy would be short lived as no proof would ever
be presented. So with Columbia, Charleston, and Augusta all
fallen, Sherman would continue his drive north toward
Goldsboro. On the way, his progress would be stalled not by
the Confederate army but by runaway slaves. The slaves were
attaching themselves to the Union columns and by the time
the force entered North Carolina, they numbered in the
thousands (Barrett, John G., Sherman's March through the
Carolinas. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press, 1956). But Sherman's force pushed on and finally met
up with Schofield in Goldsboro on March 23rd.
Sherman immediately left Goldsboro to travel up to City
Point and meet Grant to discuss plans of attack. When he
arrived there, he found not only Grant, but also Admiral
David Porter waiting to meet with President Lincoln. So on
the morning of the March 28th, General Grant, General
Sherman, and Admiral Porter all met with Lincoln on the
river boat "River Queen" to discuss a strategy against
General Lee and General Johnston of the Confederate Army.
Several times Lincoln asked "can't this last battle be
avoided?" (Angle and Miers, Tragic Years, II) but both
Generals expected the Rebels (Rebs or Rebels were a name
given to Confederate soldiers) to put up at least one more
fight. It had to be decided how to handle the Rebels in
regard to the upcoming surrender (all were sure of a
surrender). Lincoln made his intentions very clear: "I am
full of the bloodshed. You need to defeat the opposing
armies and get the men composing those armies back to their
homes to work on their farms and in their shops." (Sherman,
William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman.
Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972) The meeting lasted
for a number of hours and near its end, Lincoln made his
orders clear: "Let them once surrender and reach their
homes, they won't take up arms again. They will at once be
guaranteed all their rights as citizens of a common
country. I want no one punished, treat them liberally all
around. We want those people to return to their allegiance
to the Union and submit to the laws." (Porter, David D.,
Campaigning with Grant. New York: The Century Co., 1897)
Well with all of the formalities outlined, the Generals and
Admiral knew what needed to be done. Sherman returned to
Goldsboro by steamer; Grant and Porter left by train back
north. Sherman's course would be to continue north with
Schofield's men and meet Grant in Richmond. However, this
would never happen as Lee would surrender to Grant before
Sherman could ever get there.
General Grant returned back to his troops who were in the
process of besieging Petersburg and Richmond. These battles
had been going on for months. On March 24, before the
meeting with President Lincoln, Grant drew up a new plan
for a flanking movement against the Confederates right
below Petersburg. It would be the first large scale
operation to take place this year and would begin five days
later. Two days after Grant made preparations to move
again, Lee had already assessed the situation and informed
President Davis that Richmond and Petersburg were doomed.
Lee's only chance would be to move his troops out of
Richmond and down a southwestern path toward a meeting with
fellow General Johnston's (Johnston had been dispatched to
Virginia after being ordered not to resist the advance of
Sherman's Army) forces. Lee chose a small town to the west
named Amelia Court House as a meeting point. His escape was
narrow; they (the soldiers) could see Richmond burn as they
made their way across the James River and to the west.
Grant had finally broke through and Richmond and Petersburg
were finished on the second day of April.
On April 4th, after visiting Petersburg briefly, President
Lincoln decided to visit the fallen city of Richmond. He
arrived by boat with his son, Tad, and was led ashore by no
more than 12 armed sailors. The city had not yet been
secured by Federal forces. Lincoln had no more than taken
his first step when former slaves started forming around
him singing praises. Lincoln proceeded to join with General
Godfrey Weitzel who had been place in charge of the
occupation of Richmond and taken his headquarters in
Jefferson Davis' old residence. When he arrived there, he
and Tad took an extensive tour of the house after
discovering Weitzel was out and some of the soldiers
remarked that Lincoln seemed to have a boyish expression as
he did so. No one can be sure what Lincoln was thinking as
he sat in Davis' office. When Weitzel arrived, he asked the
President what to do with the conquered people. Lincoln
replied that he no longer gave direction in military
manners but went on to say: "If I were in your place, I'd
let 'em up easy, let 'em up easy" (Johnson, Robert
Underwood, and Clarence Clough Buel, eds., Battles and
Leaders of the Civil War, Vol 4. New York: The Century Co.,
Lee's forces were pushing west toward Amelia and the
Federals would be hot on their tails. Before leaving
Richmond, Lee had asked the Commissary Department of the
Confederacy to store food in Amelia and the troops rushed
there in anticipation. What they found when they got there
however was very disappointing. While there was an
abundance of ammunition and ordinance, there was not a
single morsel of food. Lee could not afford to give up his
lead over the advancing Federals so he had to move his
nearly starving troops out immediately in search of food.
They continued westward, still hoping to join with Johnston
eventually, and headed for Farmville, where Lee had been
informed, there was an abundance of bacon and cornmeal.
Several skirmishes took place along the way as some Federal
regiments would catch up and attack, but the Confederate
force reached Farmville. However, the men had no more that
started to eat their bacon and cornmeal when Union General
Sheridan arrived and started a fight. Luckily, it was
nearly night, and the Confederate force snuck out under
cover of the dark. But not before General Lee received
General Grants first request for surrender.
The Confederates, in their rush to leave Farmville in the
night of April 7th, did not get the rations they so
desperately needed, so they were forced to forage for food.
Many chose to desert and leave for home. General Lee saw
two men leaving for home and said "Stop young men, and get
together you are straggling" and one of the soldiers
replied "General, we are just going over here to get some
water" and Lee replied "Strike for your home and fireside"
(Freeman, Douglas Southall, R.E. Lee: A Biography, Vol 3.
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935): they did. Rebel
forces reached their objective, Appomattox Court House,
around 3pm on April 8th. Lee received word that to the
south, at Appomattox Station, supplies had arrived by train
and were waiting there. However, the pursuing Union forces
knew this also and took a faster southern route to the
station. By 8pm that evening the Federals had taken the
supplies and would wait there for the evening, preparing to
attack the Confederates at Appomattox Court House in the
morning. Meanwhile, Lee scribbled out a brave response to
Grant's inquiry simply asking for explanation of the terms
to be involved in the surrender.
At daybreak, the Confederate battle line was formed to the
west of Appomattox. The Union soldiers were in position in
front of the line with cannons. When the Federal cannons
started to fire, the Confederate signal for attack was
sounded and the troops charged. One soldier later remarked:
"It was my fortune to witness several charges during the
war, but never one so magnificently executed as this one."
(McCarthy, Carlton, Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in
the Army of Northern Virginia 1861-1865. Richmond: Carlton
McCarthy, 1882) This Confederate advance only lasted from
about 7am to 9am, at which time the Rebels were forced
back. The Confederates could no longer hold their lines and
Lee sent word to Grant to meet at 1pm to discuss surrender.
The two men met at the now famous McLean House and a
surrender was agreed upon. It was 2pm on April 9, 1865.
Johnston's army surrendered to General Sherman on April 26
in North Carolina; General Taylor of Mississippi-Alabama
and General Smith of the trans Mississippi-Texas
surrendered in May ending the war completely. SUMMARY The
Civil War was a completely tragic event. Just think, a war
in which thousands of Americans died in their home country
over nothing more than a difference in opinion. Yes,
slavery was the cause of the Civil War: half of the country
thought it was wrong and the other half just couldn't let
them go. The war was fought overall in probably 10,000
different places and the monetary and property loss cannot
be calculated. The Union dead numbered 360,222 and only
110,000 of them died in battle. Confederate dead were
estimated at 258,000 including 94,000 who actually died on
the field of battle. The Civil War was a great waste in
terms of human life and possible accomplishment and should
be considered shameful. Before its first centennial,
tragedy struck a new country and stained it for eternity.
It will never be forgotten but adversity builds strength
and the United States of America is now a much stronger
"The Civil War", Groliers Encyclopedia, 1995
Catton, Bruce., A Stillness at Appomattox. New York:
Foote, Shelby., The Civil War, Vol. 3. New York: Random,
Garraty, John Arthur, The American Nation: A History of the
United States to 1877, Vol. 1, Eighth Edition. New York:
Harper Collins College Publishers, 1995
Miers, Earl Schenck, The Last Campaign. Philadelphia: J.B.
Lippincott Co., 1972
Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox, The Last Battles.
Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1987