The Civil War: Part I

Hello readers. Before I get into this blog post, I would like to wish everyone a happy new year! I would also like to say that posts on this blog may become few and far between again, but I'll try to post as often as I can, and in as much depth as I can. I found out recently that I got accepted to Southern New Hampshire University to pursue a Master's of Arts degree in American History. My classes start in a couple of weeks, and I'm super-excited for this opportunity and what this degree, and the knowledge earned along the way to achieving it, can mean for my future as a history teacher and for this blog. So, follow this blog, and the Facebook page associated with it here, and you'll get to continue to see what I post here and on the Facebook page!

Well, let's get on with today's post, shall we?


In mid-February 1861, Abraham Lincoln made his journey via train from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, DC for his presidential inauguration. With the outbreak of the Civil War imminent, Lincoln stated that he was "devoted to peace" but warned that "it may be necessary to put the foot down". In his inaugural address on March 4, Lincoln reiterated that he wouldn't interfere with slavery in the states where it already existed. Lincoln also stated that no state could legally leave the Union and he promised to defend federal forts in the South, collect taxes, and deliver the mail. Southerners were not impressed, and a North Carolina newspaper would go on to say that Lincoln's inauguration made the coming civil war evitable.


Fort Sumter

I'm not going to spend a lot of time covering this, since I did write about this in my last post, so here's just a brief summary: Lincoln began his first day in office by reading a letter from South Carolina stating that the fort was running out of supplies. Lincoln was urged by his cabinet to surrender the fort, but Lincoln believed that giving up Fort Sumter was the same as giving up the Union. Lincoln ordered for the fort to be re-supplied, and South Carolina responded by attacking the unarmed ships. On April 12, 1861 the first shots of the Civil War rang out, and a day later the Union surrendered the fort to the Confederates.

The Battle of Fort Sumter was short, but it led to the official start of the Civil War and upheaval that was felt all over the country. On April 15th, Lincoln ordered that the states loyal to the Union supply 75,000 militiamen to subdue the rebel states. Men from both sides flocked to join the military.


On April 19th, Lincoln issued a naval blockade of all southern ports including the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, which choked off Southern commercial activity and generated shortages of goods and inflation.

Both sides believed the war would be short, ending with either the capture of Washington, DC or the fall of Richmond, Virginia (the capital of the Confederate States, after it had been moved from Alabama), but neither side was fully prepared for the four years ahead of them.

General Winfield Scott of the Union came up with a three-pronged strategy to defeat the Confederates:
  1. The Union Army of the Potomac would defend Washington, DC and exert constant pressure on Richmond
  2. The Union navy would continue to blockade southern ports and cut off the Confederacy's access to foreign goods and weapons
  3. Divide the Confederacy by invading the South along the main water routes (Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers)
Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, had a much simpler plan for victory over the Union: stalemate with the Union and hope that Britain and France would send men and supplies in exchange for cotton.


Battles of the Civil War

The Civil war consisted of over 10,000 battles, engagements, skirmishes, and other military actions fought in 23 states and resulted in a loss of 650,000 casualties. For all intents and purposes, I'll only be writing about what I think are the most important battles of the Civil War because "ain't nobody got time fo'" writing about 10,000 military actions that occurred over a four year span.


The Battle of Philippi (West Virginia)

The Battle of Philippi was the first official battle of the Civil War, and occurred in and around Philippi, Virginia (now a part of West Virginia) on June 3, 1861.

After the unofficial Battle of Fort Sumter, Major General George B. McClellan returned to the US army and assumed the command of the Department of the Ohio, headquartered in the city of Cincinnati. He planned an offensive into what is now West Virginia, hoping this would lead to an offensive against Richmond and a quick Union victory.

The reasons behind the Battle of Philippi was to protect Union interests (bridges and railroads for travel and shipping), to protect the pro-Union people in the area, and to start an offensive that would lead to the aforementioned offensive against Richmond.

The Battle of Philippi was relatively bloodless and uneventful--4 Union deaths and 26 Confederate deaths marked the casualties for this particular battle--but this battle did show that the Union was more successful in planning for war than the Confederacy, and should be/should have been an indicator of what's to come for this war.


First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas, Virginia)

The First Battle of Bull Run was the first major confrontation of the Civil War. The Union army commander, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell of Washington was given pressure to begin his military campaigns before his men's enlistments were up (remember, both sides believed that the war would be over quickly, many even believed it would be over in three months or less, which caused both sides to have their soldiers enlistments at 90 days or so). McDowell didn't feel his men were properly trained but gave in to the pressure anyway.

On July 16, 1861 McDowell set out with the Army of Northeastern Virginia, about 28,400 men, from Washington to attack the Confederate forces at Manassas, just 25 miles away, to push the Confederates away from Washington. Brigadier General PTG Beauregard had been amassing the Confederate Army of the Potomac since the Battle of Fort Sumter and had about 21,800 soldiers. Beauregard was protecting a major rail station at Manassas Junction and stationed his troops along Bull Run.

Arriving in the Manassas area on July 18th, the Union army probed Bull Run and engaged in a skirmish. McDowell planned to use two columns to attack the Confederates' left flank while a third column circled to the right flank, providing a distraction and cutting the Confederates off from Richmond. McDowell's plan was to prevent reinforcements from reaching Beauregard's troops, but, unbeknownst to McDowell, Confederate troops began boarding the railroad at Piedmont Station on July 20th to reinforce Beauregard.

On July 21st, very early in the morning, McDowell sent two divisions north while another division was sent to create a diversion by attempting to cross Bull Run. Confederate Colonel Nathan Evans suspected, rightly, that the Union division crossing Bull Run was a diversion and routed his men north where they engaged at Matthews Hill. The Confederates were able to hold back the Union divisions for a time, but were eventually driven back.

Brigadier General Thomas Jackson's Virginia brigade, Colonel Wade Hampton and his legion, and Colonel JEB Stewart's cavalry arrived at Bull Run to reinforce the Confederates.

The battle was like a seesaw, with each side holding the upper hand for a time. Brigadier General Beauregard received more troops as reinforcements. The Union troops were attacked unexpectedly by these new troops and fled in an unorganized retreat.

The Southerners lost 20,000 men and the Northerners lost about 2,700.

At the conclusion of this battle, Brigadier General PGT Beauregard was promoted to full General on August 31, 1861; Brigadier General Irvin McDowell was blamed for the Union defeat and was replaced by Major General George B McClellan as Union Army Leader.

Shortly after this battle, Beauregard's Army of the Potomac combined forces with the Army of the Shenandoah and was renamed the Army of Northern Virginia and General Robert E. Lee was put in charge. McDowell's army, the Army of Northeastern Virginia, would be renamed the Army of the Potomac and Major General George McClellan would be put in charge.

Due to some issues with battles up to this point, the Confederacy would change the design of their flag after the First Battle of Bull Run; being so similar to the "stars and stripes" of the Union led to confusion on the battlefield on more than one occasion as neither side could figure out if reinforcements that were coming were there's or not. The "Southern Cross" design, a blue x with white stars on a red banner, was adopted as a battle flag.


The Seven Days Battle (Virginia)

As the war raged on and a new year came, both sides were holding fast to their goals to capture the other's capital, both coming close but not close enough.

The summer of 1862 saw the Union and the Confederates in Virginia after having engaged in several battles in the Carolinas and some of the western states (such as Kentucky, Missouri, and ands that were under Native American control); even Georgia and Florida had seen some fighting.

The Seven Days Battle, or Seven Days Campaign, lasted from June 25th to July 1st of 1862 with the goal of advancing on to Richmond to capture the Confederate capital and the counter-goal of pushing the Union forces away from Richmond.

At the start of the battle, the Union's Army of the Potomac under Major General McClellan was 103,000 strong compared to the Confederate's Army of Northern Virginia at 92,000. Despite the huge difference in numbers, the Union was steadily driven back away from Richmond.

After Jefferson Davis asked General Robert E Lee to take command of the army, Lee immediately set the men to work building defensive positions in and around Richmond. Lee knew his men wouldn't be successful against the large Union army and requested enforcements. Once General Thomas Jackson arrived with troops from Shenandoah Valley, Lee planned his strike against McClellan.

McClellan struck first, sending two divisions to secure the Richmond and York River Railroad. The next day, Lee assaulted Union positions along the waterways, resulting in a sort of two-pronged attack.

Surrounded on all sides,, McClellan couldn't keep up with the barrage of the Confederates, and McClellan and his army retreated. Richmond was saved and Lee became the hero of the South.



Second Battle of Bull Run (Virginia)

 The Second Battle of Bull Run was fought from August 28-30, 1862.

In March 1862, President Lincoln demoted Major General McClellan from overall command of Union armies, giving him command of just the Army of the Potomac. A new Army of Virginia was formed and Major General John Pope was chosen to lead it.

McClellan's plan was to advance with the Army of the Potomac against Richmond. Major General Pope would lead the Army of Virginia 65 miles northwest of Richmond to attack the Virginia Central Railroad, hopefully distracting General Lee and his Confederate troops.

On July 29th, Lee sent General Jackson and his men to defend the railroad from Pope. Pope withdrew and requested reinforcements, but his request went unmet.

On August 25th, Jackson and his men marched north to Manassas Junction, crossing the Bull Run Mountains where they raided a Union supply depot. The Confederates gained a large amount of necessary food and supplies...and they burned what they couldn't carry.

Upon hearing about the raid on the supply depot, Pope began to march his army north. He saw an opportunity to surrender Jackson's army at Manassas Junction as long as Jackson stayed where he was for a while and didn't receive reinforcements. Jackson didn't occupy Manassas Junction but moved to nearby Groveton where he decided to wait for Pope. Pope's army marched towards Manassas Junction, and were engaged in a skirmish. Now knowing for sure where Jackson was, Pope was prepared to launch a frontal assault on him on August 29th.

Believing they had the upper hand, Pope soon realized that the Confederate's artillery strength was beyond that of the Union's, and Pope began to retreat his men.

All of the Union officers were blamed for this second failed engagement at Manassas Junction/Bull Run, but Pope felt the brunt of the blame, being relieved of command on September 5th. Pope's Army of Virginia was absorbed into the Army of the Potomac, under command of McClellan.


Battle of Antietam (Maryland)

On September 17, 1862, Generals Robert E Lee and George B McClellan faced off near Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg, Maryland, the first battle to be fought on Northern soil.

Following the Second Battle of Bull Run, General Lee advanced into Maryland, wanting to get the Union army away from their crops and wanting to show Britain and France that they could win a battle in Northern territory. Lee's plan was to divide his outnumbered forces...but his plan was figured out when the last copy of the plan went missing and came to Union commander Major General McClellan.

The first four hours of the battle was indecisive. However, a series of bloody head-on attacks against Lee's center shook the Confederates, but was met with late-arriving reinforcements.

The battle ended in a draw, but the Union claimed it as a victory. This provided the Lincoln administration enough justification to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.


Emancipation Proclamation

Shortly after the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued on January 1, 1863. It was a war measure intended to cripple the Confederacy, as it only freed the slaves from the states that were in rebellion. The Emancipation Proclamation actively changed the focus of the war from preserving the Union to freedom for slaves. The Proclamation also led to more African-Americans joining the war and paved the way for total abolition of slavery.


With it being January 1st, it feels appropriate to end this blog post here, with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Upcoming posts on this blog will take us to the conclusion of the Civil War and into the Reconstruction Era. Keep coming back to the blog to see what I'll be posting soon!

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