Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Civil War: Part III

Hello readers! I'm back with a full term of graduate school under my belt. It was an extremely busy ten weeks, but I managed to complete my classes with grades in the 90's! Now, I have some time off before I start my next term, and I'm going to spend some of that time posting here on the blog. After having to write discussion posts and papers, it's nice to be back here at the blog. I thought it was appropriate to update the layout of the blog; as I am growing up and maturing, I thought it was appropriate for the blog to do the same, especially after having the same layout for almost six years.

So, without further ado, let's pick up where we left off as we continue to discuss the Civil War.

The New York City Draft Riots

Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg and the staggering loss of life during the battle, Congress passed a conscription law making all men between the ages of 20 and 45 liable for military service. On July 13, 1863, the government's attempt to enforce the draft in New York City led to the most destructive riot in the city's history.

A few different things sparked outrage that led to the breakout of the riot. First, New York City had a huge immigrant population, many of them Irish, who found themselves on the draft lists. The Irish and free blacks directly competed for jobs, and the Irish weren't about to fight and die in a war to bring an end to slavery, because they knew those free blacks would find their way to NYC and would be vying for the same jobs as the Irish. What also irked the Irish was that conscription could be avoided by a payment of $300, which workingmen wouldn't be able to afford.

The draft riots were brutal, with the destruction of private property, razing an African-American orphanage, and a staggering loss of life. Rioters torched government buildings, and even fought skirmishes with the Union army (some of the troops being re-routed to NYC). All in all, 300 people (half of them police and soldiers) were injured and 119 people were killed during the riots.

The draft riots didn't put an end to conscription, but they did allow the government to see just how unpopular the Civil War was, and among whom it was unpopular.

Battle of the Wilderness (Virginia)

The Battle of the Wilderness took place from May 5-6, 1864 and marked the first stage of a major Union offensive toward the Confederate capital of Richmond, ordered by Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant.

As the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River on May 4th, Confederate General Robert E. Lee determined that his Army of Northern Virginia would confront the Army of the Potomac in the dense Virginia woods aptly named the Wilderness. The Wilderness was familiar territory for the Confederates; and they knew that the dense woods and heavy undergrowth would negate the Union's huge numerical advantage (115,000 to Lee's 65,000) because it would be nearly impossible for a huge army to make an advance.

The Battle of the Wilderness began on May 5, 1864 when Confederate and Union troops clashed near the Orange Turnpike, the area's main east-west road. The fighting was chaotic as the trees and underbrush made it difficult to move and rendered cavalry and artillery useless. Men on both sides stumbled into enemy camps and were taken prisoner; and fires ignited the trees by rifle bursts and exploding shells, trapping and killing many of the wounded. The first day of battle was inconclusive, with neither army gaining or losing positions.

On May 6th, the Union attacked and were able to drive the Confederates back nearly a mile. Fighting was worse than on the previous day,  with stifling smoke and fog that forced the soldiers to shoot blond. Despite all this, the Union was able to stabilize its position.

On May 7th, the Union and Confederate troops were essentially where they had been two days prior. The battle ended inconclusively, but the Union army suffered more casualties. Grant refused to order a retreat, and ordered his men to march later that night, continuing south to Richmond. Lee's troops managed to cut them off, stalling the Union advance.

The Battle of Cold Harbor (Virginia)

The Battle of Cold Harbor took place about 10 miles northeast of Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. The battle took place from May 31 to June 12, 1864 and was part of General Grant's Overland campaign to try to capture Richmond.

On May 30th, Grant's Army of the Potomac and Lee's Army of Northern Virginia clashed at Bethesda Hill, but the battle was inconclusive. The next day, the armies clashed at Cold Harbor, where a Union attack seized the intersection. Grant prepared for a major assault against the Confederate front, but his reinforcements were late in arriving. Grant finally gave the order for his men to attack on June 3rd, and the Army of the Potomac was met with heavy fire and suffered significant casualties--13,000 out of 108,000 troops to the Confederates' 2,500 out of 62,000 troops.

Sherman's March to the Sea

From November 15th to December 21, 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led 60,000 soldiers on a 285 mile march from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia to frighten Georgia's citizens to abandon the Confederate cause. Sherman's soldiers didn't destroy any towns in their path like many believe, but they did steal food and livestock and burned houses and barns belonging to those who tried to fight back.

General Sherman's troops captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864. This was a huge success for the Union because Atlanta was a railroad hub and the industrial center of the Confederacy. Atlanta had munitions factories, foundries (factories that produce metal goods), and warehouses that supplied the Confederates with food and other goods. Atlanta was a symbol of Confederate pride and strength, and its fall made many Southerners doubt they could win the war.

After they lost Atlanta, the Confederate army headed into Tennessee and Alabama to attack Union supply lines. Sherman split his troops, sending 60,000 led by Major General George Thomas to meet the Confederates in Nashville while Sherman took 62,000 to Savannah "smashing things to the sea".

Sherman wanted to "smash things" because he believed that the Confederacy drew its strength from the material and moral support of sympathetic Southerners. He believed that if he could destroy factories, farms, and railroads that the Confederate war effort would collapse. Lastly, he believed that if his men could make life unbearably unpleasant for Georgia's citizens that they would call for an end to the war.

Sherman's troops marched toward Savannah in two columns 30 miles apart. On November 22nd, 3,500 Confederates began a skirmish with the Union soldiers, but it went so badly that Confederate troops didn't initiate anymore battles. As the Confederates fled, they wrecked railroads, burned farms and bridges, tore down telegraph wires, and chopped down trees in the path of the oncoming Union army before the Union army could reach them.

Sherman's troops arrived in Savannah on December 21st, about three weeks after they left Atlanta. The city was undefended as the Confederate troops who were supposed to be guarding the city had fled. Sherman gifted Savannah and 25,000 bales of cotton to President Lincoln for Christmas. Shortly after, Sherman and his men left Savannah where they pillaged and burned their way through South Carolina.

Surrender at Appomattox Court House (Virginia)

The aftermath of Sherman's march to the sea left the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia stripped of food and supplies. Retreating from previous smaller battles, the Confederates had lost a huge portion (about 6,000) of the troops to the Union, taken prisoner near Saylor's Creek. Desertions were mounting daily, and by April 8, 1865 the Confederates were surrounded. On April 9th, General Robert E. Lee sent General Ulysses S. Grant a message announcing the willingness of the Confederate army to surrender.

Upon meeting at the house owned by Wilmer McLean, Grant gave Lee the terms of surrender--all officers and men would be sent home with their private property (particularly their horses, which could be used to farm), officers would keep their side arms, and Lee's starving men would be given Union rations. Upon the agreement of the terms of surrender, Grant said, "The war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again."

The Civil War was a total war, meaning that it included "any and all civilian-associated resources and infrastructure as legitimate military targets, and typically involves the use of weapons and tactics that result in significant civilian or other non-combatant casualties, whether collateral damage or not" (

The Civil War had a staggering body count, with 625,000 total lives lost (more than the American Revolution, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam combined). There was also a lot of destruction ass many battles took place on people's property, such as farms. Both sides would burn farms, pillage factories, tear up railroads, cut telegraph wires, steal food and supplies, and more as they wove a path of destruction through the South.

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