United States History I & II
United States History I & II

United States History I & II

Lead Author(s): Sara Eskridge

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Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Average price of textbook across most common format

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Hardcover print text only


Per volume


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Constantly revised and updated by a community of professors with the latest content

In-Book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost

Only available with supplementary resources at additional cost


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform


Average price of textbook across most common format

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed

Up to 40-60% more affordable

Lifetime access on any device


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Hardcover print text only


Roark, Johnson, Furstenberg, Stage, and Igo, The American Promise, 2 Volumes, 8th Edition


Per volume


Keene, Cornell, and O’Donnell, Visions of America, 2013


Digital only

Always up-to-date content, constantly revised by community of professors

Content meets standard for Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course, and is updated with the latest content

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

In-book Interactivity

Includes embedded multi-media files and integrated software to enhance visual presentation of concepts directly in textbook

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition


Ability to revise, adjust and adapt content to meet needs of course and instructor

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

All-in-one Platform

Access to additional questions, test banks, and slides available within one platform

Top Hat

Sara Eskridge, U.S. History I or II, Only One Edition Needed


Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, 5th Edition


Case, Fair, Oster, The American Promise, 2 Volumes


McConnell et al., Visions of America, 2nd Edition

About this textbook

Lead Authors

Sara Eskridge, Ph.DRandolph-Macon College, VA

Dr. Eskridge is a Professor of History at Western Governors University. She specializes in Civil Rights, Cold War, Southern, and Cultural History. She is the author of Rube Tube: CBS as Rural Comedy in the Sixties (University of Missouri Press, 2019) as well as several articles and book chapters on southern mediated images during the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Contributing Authors

Andrew WegmannLoyola University

Michael CarverCalifornia Polytechnic State University

Michael FrawleyUniversity of Texas of the Permian Basin

Linda ClemmonsIllinois State University

Angela HessCameron University

Sam NelsonRidgewater College

Volker JanssenCalifornia State University

Lance JandaCameron University

Explore this textbook

Read the fully unlocked textbook below, and if you’re interested in learning more, get in touch to see how you can use this textbook in your course today.

Chapter 15: The Civil War

Pre Chapter Discussion - Level 5

Before reading the following chapter, please write down what you know about the Civil War. Why do you think the Union and Confederacy fought the war? Do you think their causes changed at all as the conflict progressed?

Chapter Objectives

  • Explain Abraham Lincoln’s position on the secession crisis and indicate how his views differed from those of James Buchanan
  • Explain the events that led to the initial firing of shots in the Civil War
  • Evaluate Lincoln’s reasons for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and explain its impact
  • Summarize the military strategies of the Union and Confederate armies and evaluate their effectiveness. How did the possibility of foreign intervention impact these strategies?

Chapter Overview

Figure 15.1: Map of secession with dates each stated left the Union.​

15.01 - Level 2

Click on the final state to secede from the Union.

15.02 - Level 3

Click on the only current state outlined on this map that was not actually a state at the beginning of the Civil War.

Once Lincoln won the election, the states of the lower South, led by South Carolina, held true to their promise and voted to leave the Union (Figure 15.1). This action shocked many. The South had threatened many times before to secede from the United States, but few were prepared for the region to follow through on its promise. Since Lincoln’s inauguration was not scheduled until March 4th, James Buchanan led the government’s reaction to the beginning of this crisis. Buchanan felt that secession was illegal, but he also believed that the government did not have the power to force states back into the Union. Buchanan had no plan to deal with the ripping apart of the country. Moreover, it seemed that he really wanted to let events drift along and leave the entire crisis in Lincoln’s hands when he left office in March. 

Question 15.03

15.03 - Level 3

Can you remember another example of dangerous sectional conflict before the Civil War?

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.03.

The secession of the southern states created flashpoints with the potential to precipitate a war between the two regions. Fort Pickens in Florida and Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina created the most controversy. These forts remained in federal hands after the states in which they resided left the Union. The Union had to hold them to prove that federal power still existed in the South, while the newly seceded states needed to take them in order to prove their independence. Pickens was a backwater post that the newly formed Confederate government would have trouble taking over because of their lack of naval power. Sumter, though, was in the state that instigated the breakup of the Union, a state with a reputation for hotheaded behavior; thus, it was on Sumter that most of the nation’s attention focused. In a civil conflict such as this, the fort had little military value. Designers had placed its guns to fire out toward the sea to protect the harbor, and they could not really fire upon the city. Moreover, the shore guns around the harbor controlled all of the approaches to the fort. The garrison was isolated, making resupply difficult. Resupplying the fort became the major issue facing the Buchanan administration in its final days. The Confederate government could not claim to be independent while a foreign power controlled a fort in its territory, thus they could not allow resupply. Buchanan was not prepared to surrender federal territory, but he also did not want to start firing on Americans to force through a resupply ship. Thus, Buchanan had a tough choice to make.

15.04 - Level 1

What two forts did the federal government in the South hold immediately following secession?

15.05 - Level 2

Click on the state where Fort Sumter is located.

Figure 15.2: Senator John J. Crittenden taken by Matthew Brady. [1]

Unfortunately, through all of this controversy, Lincoln was not as much help as many hoped that he would be. He returned to his home in Illinois to await his inauguration, and for the most part, remained quiet, not wading into the serious debate engulfing the nation. This was the major problem of a March 4th inauguration—the nation almost seemed leaderless in the period between the election and Lincoln taking office. Buchanan was not the man to guide the nation through this difficult time. Others in Congress stepped forward in attempts to preserve the Union during this difficult period. One such man was John Crittenden, a Whig senator from Kentucky (Figure 15.2). Crittenden attempted to put together a compromise, made up of numerous constitutional amendments and congressional resolutions, which would make Southerners happy and perhaps return them to the Union. 

The amendments included protection for the institution of slavery, the extension of the Missouri Compromise line all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and the return of fugitive slaves. In addition, these amendments could never be repealed. Thus, the so-called Crittenden Compromise centered on making sure that slavery was preserved and protected. The Republicans, however, did not see the need to compromise. They had won the election, and without much leadership coming from Lincoln, the Republicans would not agree to give up policies that had brought them victory. Some Northerners, such as William Lloyd Garrison, were even happy about secession, as the southern states took the blight of slavery with them when they left the Union. Supporters introduced the compromise in its final form to Congress on December 18, 1860. However, Congress tabled the bill, ending any further discussion of the compromise, on December 31, 1860; there was no real support for Crittenden’s work. The time for compromise was over. 

15.06 - Level 1

Who was the author of the failed “Crittenden Compromise"?


An abolitionist newspaper editor from Savannah


A Whig Senator from Kentucky


A Democratic Representative from Florida


A Republican judge from New York

The Confederacy Forms

With the Union drifting along somewhat rudderlessly, the lower South states that had voted to leave the Union joined together to form a government. A convention of the seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama in February 1861. A provisional government formed and Jefferson Davis, a former Mississippi senator and Secretary of War, became President of the new Confederate States of America. The delegates in Montgomery worked to write a Constitution for this new nation. They used the U.S. Constitution as their guide, leaving most of it unchanged. The two biggest differences were that the president served only one six-year term and the document provided specific protections for slavery. Confederates were determined to protect the institution that they had broken up the Union to preserve. As the Confederates finalized their constitution, Lincoln finally took office. Unlike Buchanan, he was determined to resupply Fort Sumter and prove that the federal government had power in the region, putting down the rebellion in the process.

15.07 - Level 1

How many years made up a presidential term under the Confederate Constitution?

As soon as he took office, Davis also faced a problem developing in South Carolina. Many hotheads from the newly formed Confederacy flooded into Charleston, eager to be the first to fire on the federal installation in the harbor and confident that they were going to win a war. Davis had to be strong in his reaction to this development. To prove that the Confederacy was a legitimate nation, worthy of recognition by the international community, he had to firmly take control of the situation and preserve the integrity of this new nation while also proving that the government could control its own citizens. If those in Charleston fired upon Sumter without orders from Montgomery, no one would believe that the Confederate government exerted control over their so-called nation. Davis, then, was facing a crisis on two fronts, a circumstance that plagued his administration throughout the entire war.

15.08 - Level 1

Where was the first capital of the Confederacy located?




New Orleans





Question 15.09

15.09 - Level 3

Why was Fort Sumter such an important issue for Confederate President Jefferson Davis when he took office?

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.09.

Figure 15.3: Steamship Star of the West, with reinforcements for Major Anderson, approaching Fort Sumter. [2]

Question 15.10

15.10 - Level 5

If you were in Jefferson Davis’s position in 1861, what would you have done?

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.10.

Davis and his advisors knew they could not allow a supply mission to Sumter. The garrison needed to be driven out—the sooner the better. The Confederates had already successfully repelled one Union resupply effort when The Star of the West, a small cargo ship, had taken fire from southern shore batteries in an attempt to land supplies at Sumter in January 1861 (Figure 15.3). Davis had to fire first, and he had to fire soon. On April 12, 1861, Davis ordered his commander in Charleston, P.G.T. Beauregard, to drive out the men stationed in the fort. After taking the shelling for a time, Major Robert Anderson, the commander of the fort, surrendered on April 13th. The Confederate barrage killed no federal soldiers. However, two Union soldiers were killed by their own artillery during the firing of a salute as they were leaving the fort. They were the first casualties of the first battle of the Civil War. Lincoln called for volunteers. He explained to the nation that the flag had taken fire and asked men to step forward to put down this rebellion. He was very careful to call the upcoming struggle a rebellion so that he did not give legitimacy to Confederate claims that they had formed a new government. In response to this call for volunteers, the upper South left the Union. These states, including Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, as they  refused to fire on their fellow southern states and rejected the federal government’s use of force against the South. Now the sides were set, and the war began in earnest.

15.11 - Level 2

Under what circumstances did the first fatalities of the Civil War occur?


A brief naval battle


A friendly-fire accident


An unfortunate accident


An assassination

15.12 - Level 2

Which of the following political positions did Jefferson Davis never hold?


U.S. Senator


Secretary of War


President to the Confederacy


Vice President of the United States

Spotlight on Primary Source

Mary Chesnut’s letter from Charleston during siege of Sumter 

Mary Chesnut was woman from the top of southern society; she was married to a Senator who later served in the Confederate Army. She kept a diary that gives us a view of the war in the South. It is one of the best sources on the effects of the war on the home front as well as a woman’s view of the war. This early entry is from the firing on Sumter and the outbreak of the war. Women were very important to the war effort. As in almost all conflicts in American history, women had to step in to do the jobs that men had performed before they went to war. This meant running the family farm or supervising a plantation. It meant providing for families during a time of shortages and rising prices. It also meant waiting for news from the front about the fate of their husbands and sons. Some of these women went to war with their husbands, working as camp laborers or as nurses. A few even sneaked into uniform and served with distinction in the army. Mary’s diary is one of the best accounts of how women, especially southern women, lived with, reacted to, and survived the challenges that the war brought upon them.

Question 15.13

15.13 - Level 3

How did Mary Chesnut view the outbreak of hostilities between the North and the South? How did southerners react to Fort Sumter based on her account?

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.13.

15.14 - Level 1

Which of these states seceded from the Union after Fort Sumter?









The Early War, 1861 and 1862 

Once Lincoln issued his call to arms for 75,000 volunteers to serve 90 days, Northerners flocked to the Union banner. They came in such numbers that the federal government asked the states to hold back some of their men as they tried to organize and equip an army almost overnight. Once Virginia left the Union in April, the Confederate government moved from Montgomery to Richmond, and the same phenomenon occurred, with Southerners flocking to defend their new flag. Thus, both sides had to deal with the problems of organizing their armies and finding commanders. The North and South had vastly different goals in the upcoming conflict. The South just had to survive and defend itself until the North gave up and allowed them their independence. The North had to put down the rebellion, which meant that they would have to conquer, and eventually occupy, the South. Neither side really understood how any of this would eventually take place. Men in both the North and South truly believed that there would be one climatic battle, their side would win, and the war would be over. Many feared that they would arrive at the front too late to even see combat because it would end so quickly. 

Figure 15.4: Map depicting Scott’s Anaconda Plan. [3]
15.15 - Level 3

Click on the image in the map that symbolized the Union army

The senior military commander in the United States at the time was General Winfield Scott. Scott had made his career during his famous campaign on Mexico City during the Mexican-American War. While he had been a failed Whig candidate for president, he was still the commander of all Union forces at the outbreak of the war. Scott ultimately could not take the field, as he had gained a great deal of weight in his old age, and was afflicted with gout. Scott was 6'5", over 300 lbs, suffered from vertigo, and had turned 75 on June 13, 1861. These problems forced his subordinates to tie him to his horse in order to ride it. There was no way that he could lead the Union armies in the field. He turned to his most able and trusted lieutenant, Robert E. Lee, and offered him command of the Union army. 

Lee, as a Virginian, faced a dilemma. While he loved and respected the Union, he could not fire on his own people. Rejecting the Union command, he instead went south and offered his services to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government. Scott, though, for all of his physical problems, was one of the few senior leaders who really understood what this war was going to be like. Moreover, he had come up with a plan to fight it, the Anaconda Plan (Figure 15.4). While most thought that this was going to be a short war, with one or two battles at most, Scott understood that it would take a long and drawn out campaign to bring the South back into the Union. Scott’s plan called for a blockade of all southern ports, then a move down the Mississippi River to cut the Confederacy in two and strangle it to death, thus simulating the attack of an anaconda. Scott received ridicule for being too timid, and the government quickly eased him out to make room for younger and more vigorous men. However, history proved Scott right, for it was his Anaconda Plan that eventually brought the Union victory.

 Question 15.16

15.16 - Level 4

Explain Scott’s Anaconda Plan. Was it successful? How?

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.16.

15.17 - Level 2

Click on the state where the Mississippi River enters the Gulf of Mexico.

On to Richmond! The First Battle of Bull Run

Figure 15.5: General Irvin McDowell, Union Commander at the First Battle of Bull Run. [4]

Much of the focus of the war, and many of the most famous battles, took place in the Eastern Theater. For the most part, this theater—comprised of the land between Washington D.C. and Richmond, with occasionally forays into Maryland and Pennsylvania—saw a great deal of combat and death. Based on how Northerners and Southerners thought the war would play out, this makes sense. The Union just had to form their army, march down to Richmond, and the war would be over. The Confederates felt they could quickly defeat the Union army and march north into Washington. Thus, to accomplish these goals, both governments sent forces to a railroad junction in northern Virginia known as Manassas, near a creek called Bull Run. General Irvin McDowell was the commander of the Union army (Figure 15.5). However, calling these men an army was rather generous. They were a mob of ill-trained volunteers. The units of these volunteers, organized by state, elected their own officers. These officers really knew little of military discipline or operations and the volunteers balked at taking orders. It was very difficult to arm and equip these men, let alone convince them of the importance of military discipline. The Southern forces under Beauregard faced the same obstacles, and both sides would have problems with disciplining their volunteers throughout the war. Nonetheless, the people of both regions called for action.

Thus, the first major battle of the Civil War took place on July 21, 1861. The battle had two names, as did most Civil War battles. The North called it the First Bull Run, as they tended to name battles after the closest body of water, while the South called it First Manassas, as they named battles after the nearest town. All of Washington society had trekked down from the capital to watch the fighting, expecting to see a quick victory and the end of the war. McDowell’s inexperienced army attacked the Confederates. The Union forces attempted to turn the left flank of the Confederate army, but they had not trained well enough to execute this maneuver successfully. Initially, the battle went well for McDowell, as Beauregard’s forces were just as ill trained. The Confederacy though, using railroads, rushed reinforcements to Manassas under General Joseph Johnston. Johnston’s forces turned the tide of battle and drove McDowell’s men from the field. The roads back to Washington were clogged with soldiers, civilians, and wounded men. It was complete chaos. The Confederacy had won the first major battle of the war. Moreover, many began to realize that this was not going to be a short war. McDowell lost his command for his part in this debacle. Fortunately for the North, there was a rising star who, having swept the imagination of the nation, could replace him.

15.18 - Level 1

What did the Confederacy name the first major battle of the Civil War?

A New Star Rises – McClellan Takes Command

Figure 15.6: General George B. McClellan. [5]

A Mexican War veteran and West Point graduate, George McClellan was running a railroad when the war broke out (Figure 15.6). McClellan, a Major General in the U.S. Army, received command of the Ohio Militia. He moved his forces into the western part of Virginia, a region that was not pro-slavery and did not want to leave the Union. This move helped bring the state of West Virginia into the Union later in the war. He won two minor victories in western Virginia, and the papers began to write about his military genius, even though some fellow officers were already beginning to notice the extreme caution that would haunt him later in his career. After the Union defeat at Bull Run, Lincoln brought McClellan to Washington and gave him command of the Military District of the Potomac, and the army that he formed went down in history as the Army of the Potomac. At this point, McClellan was a brilliant choice to put in command of the main Union army. He was amazing at organization, and through his efforts, the Army of the Potomac was well organized, trained, and equipped. On the parade ground, with McClellan looking on proudly, this army looked like a force that would never see defeat.

15.19 - Level 1

What general did McClellan replace early in the war?

Figure 15.7: Receiving wounded at Fort Monroe as illustrated in Frank Leslie's paper, August 16, 1862. [6]

Unfortunately, it seemed to Lincoln and his advisors that they would never know how the army would actually fare, as McClellan seemingly shied from battle. The general was convinced that the Confederate forces across the river in Virginia vastly outnumbered his own army. This simply was not true. He had at least a two to one advantage over the Confederate Army. On November 1, 1861, Winfield Scott officially retired, and despite misgivings, Lincoln made McClellan general-in-chief. However, the Army of the Potomac would not see battle for the rest of 1861. It was not until March of the following year that the Washington government prodded McClellan into action. 

McClellan’s plan was to abandon the line south of Washington and move his entire army by water to the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, southeast of Richmond, to the Union-controlled Fortress Monroe (Figure 15.7). He would establish a base there, then advance up the peninsula to Richmond, as that march would be much shorter and less defended than the overland route from Washington. The Union Navy controlled the seas, and with his supply lines secure, the war would end quickly. While the movement received approval, it made Washington very nervous. Politicians in the capital were, of course, very concerned with the protection of the city and themselves, and McClellan would constantly complain about political interference on this matter throughout the campaign. Moreover, on March 11th before he left for the Peninsula, Lincoln stripped him of his position as general-in-chief so that McClellan could focus solely on the army and the battles ahead. However, this rankled the prideful McClellan, and he saw it as the rebuke that it was. 

15.20 - Level 2

What state did McClellan help bring into the Union as part of his first campaign of the Civil War?

The Peninsula Campaign and the Rise of Lee 

McClellan and his army sailed in mid-March, and were soon outside of Fortress Monroe on the old Revolutionary War battleground of Yorktown, preparing to assault the Confederate forces gathered there to stop his advance. The Confederate commander at Yorktown, General John B. Magruder, knew that he was horribly outnumbered. However, McClelland’s reputation for caution and faulty intelligence led the Union commander to believe that the only way he could take the position was through a protracted siege. As he prepared his attack, the Confederates, under Joseph Johnston, were preparing better defensive lines further up the peninsula. By the time McClellan was ready to attack after a month of preparation, the Confederate army had fallen back to a more defensible position and McClellan had lost an excellent opportunity to break the Confederate lines and potentially take Richmond. 

Figure 15.8: General Robert E. Lee by Julian Vannerson, 1864. [7]

McClellan followed the retreating Confederate forces, fighting battles at Williamsburg and Drewry’s Bluff, among others, and eventually pushing Johnston’s forces back to the gates of Richmond. On June 1, at the Battle of Seven Pines, Johnston was injured and forced to give up command of the army. This changed the course of the war. Jefferson Davis had a general available to send to the front: his military advisor, Robert E. Lee (Figure 15.8). While his troops early on liked to call him “Granny” Lee because of his age, his aggressive tactics brought victories to the Confederacy, as long as his men and supplies held out.

Lee knew that McClellan’s army was larger, but he also knew that he had to take the offensive to drive McClellan away from Richmond. Over the course of a series of battles known as the Seven Days, Lee attacked the Union forces, driving the cautious McClellan back until he was safe under the guns of the Union Navy. This campaign was not perfect. At Malvern Hill, Lee made a series of poor assaults on an entrenched position defended by heavy guns, but in the end, the campaign was successful. The Union lost 15,840 men and the Confederacy lost 20,140 in the battles on the Peninsula, but Richmond was safe, McClellan was contained, and Lee could begin plans to shift the fighting away from the Confederate capital. 

15.21 - Level 1

At what battle was General Johnston wounded?


Seven Pines


Bull Run


Malvern Hill



First Moves in the West

There was more to the Confederacy than Virginia, though. The West was very important in the Civil War. The first major Union breakthroughs would happen there, and the Mississippi River was vital to both North and South. It was the central artery of the nation—a great highway that carried goods for both factions. Losing control of the river would cripple the Confederacy, cutting off its western states, especially Texas, from the rest of the region. The North, of course, wanted to capture and control it. It was here, very early in the war, that Union general Ulysses S. Grant would begin his rise to national prominence.

Question 15.22

15.22 - Level 2

Explain why capturing the Mississippi River was important for the Union cause.

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.22.

Figure 15.9: Bombardment and capture of Fort Henry. [8]

Grant, who had a reputation for both dogged work and alcoholism from his pre-Civil War days, received command of a unit of western troops in Illinois from John C. Fremont, the commander of the district. After some small-scale fighting in Missouri, he asked permission to move against forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers to open the area to Union gunboats. He quickly moved his men to capture two important forts on the river, Henry and Donelson. He took Fort Henry on the Tennessee River first, capturing it on February 6 1862 (Figure 15.9). Fort Donelson proved a more difficult challenge, but with naval support, the fort fell to Grant’s forces soon after Henry on February 17. It was here that Grant earned his nickname, “Unconditional Surrender,” when he demanded the same from the Confederate commander at Donelson. The press, attaching this term to his initials, gave Grant a national reputation.

Figure 15.10: Early Campaigns in the Wester Theater.​ ​

After the fall of these forts, Grant, now the commander of the Army of the Tennessee, had his army camped along its namesake river, preparing his next attack on Corinth, Mississippi (Figure 15.10). On April 6, 1862, Confederate generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard surprised Grant and routed his disorganized forces in his camp on Pittsburg Landing, near a little meetinghouse named Shiloh. However, after a day of fighting, the Confederates were too exhausted to complete their victory. Overnight, fresh Union reinforcements arrived, forcing back the Confederates and ultimately holding the field. This was the costliest battle in American history to this point, with well over 20,000 men killed in the fighting. Grant took criticism in the press for this debacle, and rumors swirled that he had been drunk during the battle. He temporarily lost his command before Lincoln reinstated him, stating, “I cannot spare this man, he fights.”  

15.23 - Level 1

What general at the First Battle of Bull Run also commanded Confederate forces at Shiloh?

The War on the Home Front

Question 15.24

15.24 - Level 5

What factors do you think determine whether or not people support a war or major military conflict? What do you think motivates them to support it, and what would make them question that support?

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.24.

The first year of the war ended inconclusively. In the East, where much of the nation’s attention was focused, it was a year of victory of the Confederacy. In the West, it was a year of victories for the Union. In every part of the country, war fever had swept over people. Men poured into the ranks for the adventure, romance, and honor of war. They enlisted and served together in units formed based on location. Thus, if a battle went badly and an entire regiment was lost, most of the young men of a given town could be killed in a few hours, as happened many times during this conflict. Daily, families rushed to the local newspaper office for word of recent battles and to scan the casualty lists for loved ones, and the romance of war quickly wore off. However, even through defeats, both sides were optimistic and felt that victory was just around the corner. The South, though, had to deal with shortages that Northerners did not. While the Confederacy did have some industry and supplies did slip through the blockade, Southerners had to tighten their belts and find replacements for or do without many things, such as coffee, so that the men in uniform had what they needed. Early in the war, these sacrifices were easy to make as their armies were winning, Lee was a genius, and they believed one Confederate could whip ten Yankees, but this feeling did not last for long. No one, North or South, thought the war was going to last as long as it did; the next battle was always going to be the last.

Slaves faced a very different war than whites did. Those close to battlefronts had the opportunity to escape to Union lines, leaving Union officials to figure out what to do with the freedmen. However, they were woefully unprepared to do so at the beginning of the war. Four Border States did not leave the Union: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. All were slave states. Thus, escaped slaves were a major problem for the government, as the Lincoln administration did not want to do anything that could potentially drive the Border States to secession. Union generals with abolitionist leanings and the slaves themselves ultimately forced the hand of Union officials. Some generals, like Benjamin Butler, a Massachusetts abolitionist, declared that any slave that reached Union lines was free, while other commanders allowed owners to reclaim the lost property. Eventually, slaves of owners in rebellion against the government faced seizure as contraband through the Confiscation Acts, the first passed in August 1861 and the second in July 1862. Many of these contraband slaves stayed with the army and became army laborers and camp followers. This was good for the Union cause, freeing more men for combat while weakening the Confederate war effort. As the South had always used slaves for labor, they continued to do so during the war. Slaves stayed at home and continued agricultural production to support the war effort. They also were used as camp laborers and in building defensive positions. Moreover, many officers took their slaves with them to war, using them as camp servants who cooked food or did laundry. However, the Confederates also had to waste manpower on overseers and slave patrols during the war. These men even received exemptions from war service as they were  indispensable on the home front. Early in the war, this was not an issue due to high war fever, but problems developed as the war dragged on.

15.25 - Level 1

What was the first act passed by Congress dealing with slaves during the Civil War?

The Emancipation Proclamation

At first, the war was not a conflict to end slavery; it was a war to preserve the Union. Many soldiers wanted nothing to do with the idea of abolition. It would take time before the goals of the war would shift. Freemen in the North agitated for a greater role for African Americans in the war effort. All of these things weighed on Lincoln as he tried to chart the nation’s path through this crisis.

By 1862, slavery became a major point of contention for the Lincoln administration. Many in the North were clamoring for a shift in the goal of the war. They believed that the war must be fought to end slavery. Ending slavery would weaken the Confederate war effort as slaves both escaped to freedom in the North and required more white manpower to ensure that they worked. Even people who were not abolitionist at the outbreak of hostilities began to realize that the outcome of the war would result in the end of slavery. Soldiers, coming into close contact with slaves for the first time, realized that they were human beings deserving of freedom. Moreover, the Confederacy was seeking recognition from foreign governments, especially Great Britain and France. This was something that the Union could not allow, as it would invite foreign intervention in the conflict, most likely ending in Confederate independence. Making the war a war to end slavery would have a major effect on foreign policy, most likely keeping other nations from taking sides in the conflict. Lincoln and his advisor believed that his power as commander-in-chief gave him the power to end slavery in the rebelling areas, and Lincoln was now prepared to use this power to help end the war. However, Lincoln had to tread carefully because of the Border States, who would resist any effort to end slavery.

Question 15.26

15.26 - Level 2

Explain how the northern public came to support abolishing slavery during the war.

Click here to see the answer to Question 15.26.

Lincoln wrote his draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862. He then circulated it to his cabinet to get their thoughts. Most agreed with the ideas and the wording of, the document. Nevertheless, they did raise one important issue: the Union was losing many battles in the East, where the eyes of the nation, and the world, were drawn. Lincoln and his cabinet decided that issuing the proclamation required a military victory. If the Union did not win a significant battle before issuing it, the document would seem like a desperate attempt to salvage a losing war.

Question 15.27

15.27 - Level 4

What ultimately prompted President Lincoln to take a harder stance on the issue of slavery? Would he have done so if George McClellan’s campaign in the spring and early summer of 1862 had been successful? What would have been the nature of the restored Union if McClellan had won the war before mid summer of 1862?

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Figure 15.11: General John Pope, Union Commander at Second Bull Run. [9]

After McClellan’s debacle on the Virginia Peninsula, he refused to take action without a complete refit and reinforcement of his troops. Lincoln had to find some way to get the army moving. Lee, after this victory, turned his forces north towards Washington, hoping to draw McClellan’s larger army away from the Confederate capital. McClellan, as always, was responding very slowly, so Lincoln found another general. John Pope, a man who had made a name for himself during the fighting in the West, came east (Figure 15.11). Lincoln created an army for him with both new units and men taken away from McClellan. Pope deployed his forces near the old Bull Run battlefield, where a second battle took place August 28-30, 1862. While Pope had informed his army that they would win, as he had only ever seen the backs of his enemies in the West, Lee soundly defeated Pope in the Second Battle of Bull Run.

After this victory, Lee took the fighting to the enemy and slipped his army north around the disorganized federals. McClellan was restored to command and followed him. Lee had two hopes for this northern campaign. Firstly, he wanted to move the fighting out of Virginia during harvest time. Moreover, he hoped to win some kind of signature victory over the Union on northern soil, which would convince foreign nations to recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation and to intervene on their behalf. While many in Richmond feared this move, as it left the capital lightly defended, Lee had given them nothing but victory so far, and they trusted his judgment.

15.28 - Level 1

Who commanded the Union forces at the Second Battle of Bull Run?


John Pope


George McClellan


U.S. Grant


Irwin McDowell

Figure 15.12: Map of the Maryland Campaign that led to the Battle of Antietam. ​

Lee had gotten the jump on McClellan and the Union army; all McClellan could do at this point was trail Lee north into Maryland and try to bring him to battle. Lee used his cavalry to great effect, screening his movements and keeping the Union in the dark about his plans. This was all to change, though, due to a stroke of luck. A soldier, exploring a campground recently abandoned by the Confederates, found a few cigars wrapped in a piece of paper. While the soldier was excited about the cigars, his superiors, especially McClellan, were more excited about the piece of paper, which contained a copy of Lee’s marching orders for the army. McClellan now knew that Lee’s army was widely scattered, and if he could catch it, he could destroy it piece by piece. 

The battle that developed from this find, was fought on September 17, 1862 near a small town named Sharpsburg, and has come down through history as the Battle of Antietam, named after a small creek between the armies (Figure 15.12). The battle did not result in a great victory for either side. McClellan mishandled his army and was, as always, overly cautious. However, he stopped Lee’s advance into the North and forced him to retreat south. If McClellan, who had a much larger number of men available to him than Lee did, had pursued the beaten Confederates, the war may have ended there. However, he did not, and an excellent opportunity slipped away. Thus, while McClellan had successfully turned back Lee’s invaders, it was not as complete of a victory as it could have, and perhaps should have, been. While this latest failure to take initiative cost McClellan his command, beating Lee, no matter how it happened, gave Lincoln the victory that he needed to be able to change the nature of the war. 

Question 15.29

15.29 - Level 5

Assess the generalship of General George B. McClellan based on what you know about his Civil War record. What were his strengths and weaknesses?

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Lincoln released the preliminary version of the proclamation on September 22, 1862, and it took effect on January 1, 1863. On that date, the proclamation emancipated all slaves in areas in rebellion against the government. It did not free any slaves in areas that were under federal government control, such as any of the Border States that stayed in the Union, or Union-occupied areas such as those in Louisiana and Virginia. Thus, as Lincoln’s critics stated, the only slaves freed by this document were those over which the government had no control. The act therefore did not go far enough for many hardline abolitionists. The Proclamation, limited in scope, still changed the meaning of the war. No longer was this a war to only put the Union back together—it was now a war to end slavery. Moreover, this document made international recognition of the Confederacy much less likely. With the focus of the war shifted, Great Britain, which had ended slavery in its empire years earlier, could not support the Confederacy as doing so would offer tacit support for slavery. France followed Britain’s lead. While the war raged for two more years, this was a major step towards Union victory.

Question 15.30

15.30 - Level 2

Why did the Emancipation Proclamation not free enslaved laborers in areas under Union control, such as the Border States and New Orleans?

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The Emancipation Proclamation also gave a new role to slaves in the Union war effort. Once large numbers of slaves began to reach Union lines, they began to agitate to fight in the war itself—not to just serve as laborers for the army, as they had done since the beginning of the conflict, but to tote a rifle and fight to free their still enslaved brethren. A movement began to enlist freedmen into the army, a decision that created problems later in the war. However, this could not have happened without Lincoln’s moves toward emancipation. The Union army transformed into a force for liberation as slaves flocked to Union lines and freedom. The first African American regiments formed in Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Tennessee. These men did not receive the same pay as white soldiers for their service until 1864, when Congress retroactively raised their pay to the same as that given to white soldiers. Nevertheless, they served in large numbers. 180,000 African Americans would serve in the Union Army, about 10% of its total strength, by the end of the war. These soldiers faced great travails for their service. If captured in battle by the Confederates, they could expect very harsh treatment. Confederate authorities also promised harsh treatment to the white officers of African American soldiers and that the soldiers themselves would be sold into slavery, if not killed on the spot. This was especially true at the Battle of Fort Pillow in Tennessee in 1864. Out of a garrison of around 600 African American soldiers, 575 died in an attack on the fort by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

15.31 - Level 1

When did Lincoln first write the Emancipation Proclamation?

The Later War – 1863-1865

Figure 15.13: General Ambrose Burnside. [10]

After he failed to follow Lee south and destroy his army, McClellan lost command of the Army of the Potomac for the final time. This hurt the morale of the army, as the men loved McClellan. Many had not fought under another commander, and he cared for his soldiers. However, he would not use the army, and the war needed to progress. Thus, Lincoln turned to one of the senior corps commanders in the army, Ambrose Burnside (Figure 15.13). Burnside, famous for his facial hair, was not the best choice. He was unsure of himself and not very imaginative. He proved this in the one and only battle during which he commanded the army, the Battle of Fredericksburg. The battle took place on December 13, 1862, a time when most armies were in winter quarters due to poor weather and impassable roads. Nevertheless, Burnside knew that Lincoln wanted action. He proposed to rush his army to the crossing of the Rappahannock River at the city of Fredericksburg, cross quickly, and then move on to Richmond. This plan would only work if he could move quickly and get across the river before Lee stopped him. However, the pontoon bridges that he needed to make the crossing were late arriving. Lee was able to entrench his army on a ridge above the city, commanding the river approaches. Burnside attacked anyway, and the Confederates slaughtered the Army of the Potomac. The morale of the army shattered as Burnside ordered frontal assault after frontal assault, sending men to their deaths in waves. The army retreated into winter quarters a shell of what it had been under McClellan, and Lincoln began looking for a new commander for his eastern army.

Hooker and Chancellorsville    

Figure 15.14: Picture of “Stonewall” Jackson taken shortly before his death at Chancellorsville. [11]

In January 1863, Lincoln turned the army over to Joseph Hooker, a corps commander under McClellan and Burnside, who had been politicking for the job for quite some time. Hooker thought highly of himself, and his battle performances had earned him the nickname “Fighting Joe.” Hooker immediately put some backbone into the army, returning some of the élan that it had possessed under McClellan. The men felt that someone cared about them again. Food and supplies were more forthcoming and the army soon returned to fighting form. 

Moreover, Hooker reorganized the army, promoting new corps commanders and turning his cavalry into a more effective, unified command. By the time the spring campaigning season began in 1863, the army was in fine form, and its commander was confident of victory. In April, the campaign began. Hooker hoped to use his new cavalry command and some audacious marching to try to envelop Lee’s army. However, Lee split his forces and arguably fought his greatest battle May 1-6, 1863. Lee defeated Hooker’s army at Chancellorsville. Lee, though he won the battle, perhaps took the greater loss. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Lee’s most able commander, took fire from his own troops as he scouted the lines on May 2, and died from those wounds on May 10 (Figure 15.14). The Confederate army would never be the same. While Lee had other able commanders, none had the skill that Jackson possessed, and his loss resonated for the rest of the war. Never again would the Confederate army attack as well as it had to this point, and never again would it win a battle like this. However, Lee still had to continue, and in the aftermath of this great victory, he again looked north in hopes of a victory that could win independence for the Confederacy.


Figure 15.15: The development of the Gettysburg Campaign.​

Lee slipped around the Union army, which was still in disarray, and headed north. The demoralized Hooker could do little more than follow him and keep his army between Lee and Washington. As the march continued, Lincoln decided to replace Hooker on June 17, 1863 with George Gordon Meade, the Army of the Potomac’s fourth commander in a year. Meade would be the last commander of the army, holding the post until the end of the war. As the army was already on the march, he could do little but continue on, trying to bring Lee’s forces to battle. This campaign would culminate in the Battle of Gettysburg—one of the most well-known battles of the Civil War (Figure 15.15). Lee planned to take the war north, just as he had the previous summer, in order to give some relief to Virginia and win a major battle on northern soil. While Lee’s army had seen nothing but victory, except at Antietam, it was not the same army that had come north the year before. Weaker in both supplies and men, it was also weaker in leadership due to Jackson’s death. Time was not the friend of the Confederate cause, and Lee recognized this. Northerners had to be convinced that continuing the war effort was just too costly. Moreover, a presidential election was coming up, and a battle in Pennsylvania could affect its outcome. Thus, a victory on northern soil was almost required at this point if there was going to be any hope for Confederate victory. 

Figure 15.16: Overview of the third day of battle, featuring Pickett’s Charge in the center of the line. ​

The battle itself was an accident. Lee’s men, as they marched north, were under orders not to begin a general engagement. However, Confederate infantry clashed with dismounted Federal cavalry in Gettysburg, others flocked to the sound of fighting, and the three-day battle began. The battle began on July 1, with the armies coming up to Gettysburg and jockeying for position. Heavy fighting marked July 2 as the armies engaged on Little Round Top and in the Peach Orchard. Finally, on July 3 came the Confederate assault on the middle of the Union lines. Lee felt that with the fighting on the flanks, Meade must have weakened his middle, but Lee was wrong, and the Union army easily repulsed Pickett’s Charge (Figure 15.16). On July 4, 1863, Lee’s battered troopers retreated south, and the war began to slip away.

In the aftermath of Gettysburg, a group of Northerners decided to turn the site of the battle into a national cemetery to remember those who had died there. Within five months, it was ready for dedication. While Edward Everett, a famous orator of the time, was to give the main speech, Lincoln received an invitation to make a few remarks at the last minute. Lincoln’s “few remarks” went down in history as the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American History. His brief speech reinforced the purposes of the founding of the nation and the goals of the Civil War: not just restoring the Union, but as a vehicle for equality.

Spotlight on Primary Source

This is one of the shortest, important speeches in American history. But, in these few short words, spoken in under two minutes, Lincoln gave voice to his view of how the government should function, and why the Union government was fighting this war to its bloody conclusion.

Question 15.32

15.32 - Level 4

What themes/images does Abraham Lincoln draw upon in the Gettysburg Address? How does it reframe the meaning of the Union?

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Question 15.33

15.33 - Level 3

Why did Lee again invade the North in 1863?

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15.34 - Level 1

Sort the following Union generals in the order in which they commanded the Army of the Potomac.









Grant and Vicksburg

Figure 15.17: The Siege of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863. [12]​​

In the West, events conspired to push the war toward its conclusion. Union forces in the West were working toward taking complete control of the Mississippi River. Grant again took command of an army with Lincoln’s support. Grant was closing in on one of the last major obstacles to control of the river: the fortress city of Vicksburg. Grant, working closely with naval forces on the river under Admiral David Dixon Porter, came up with a daring plan (Figure 15.17). He would cross to the western side of the river, drop below Vicksburg, re-cross the river, and take the city from the southeast. Grant’s plan worked, as Confederate forces scattered when he made his crossing. He forced Confederate General John Pemberton’s army back into Vicksburg. 

After a few attempts at frontal assault failed, Grant settled in for a protracted siege beginning on May 18, 1863. There were not enough Confederate forces available in the area to break the siege. The resources of the South clearly showed the strain they were under at this point. By the beginning of July, with no relief in sight, Pemberton asked for terms by which he could surrender his men. At first, Grant pushed for unconditional surrender. However, as he did not want to deal with 30,000 captured soldiers, he offered them their paroles. On July 4, 1863, the Mississippi River was in Union hands, the Confederacy was cut in two, and with the victory at Gettysburg, the Confederates were in retreat on all fronts.

Draft Riots

Figure 15.18: 1863 New York City Draft Riots. [13]

For all of the Union’s great victories, things were not good on the Union home front. The war dragged on, volunteer numbers were lagging, and the government needed to make good on the army’s losses. Thus, a draft law was passed. This was not the first draft law in this conflict. In April 1862, the Confederate government had put a conscription law into effect. This law caused grumbling in the South, as it exempted many from service based on their employment, especially overseers of enslaved African Americans. Some Southerners then saw this as a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. The same idea pervaded the North. The U.S. Congress had passed a conscription law in July 1862. Then, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January 1863. Thus, by the summer of 1863, some Northerners, especially poor immigrants in New York City, felt that they were being forced to fight for slaves while rich men sat at home. Moreover, many were upset that African Americans were not being drafted as well. This culminated in three days of draft riots, which broke out on July 13, 1863 (Figure 15.18). A gang of mostly Irish rioters set fires and attacked African Americans. The army was called in to put down these riots. The war was taking its toll on all parts of United States, and victory was still not certain. 

Grant Takes Over 

Figure 15.19: The Battle of Chattanooga November 24-25, 1863​​.

In August 1863, General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, began a campaign to take the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and open up the central part of the Confederacy, especially Georgia, to invasion. After taking the city, Rosecrans lost the Battle of Chickamauga (September 18-20, 1863), which took place south of the city, to Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee. Rosecrans was pushed back into Chattanooga, where the Confederates put him under siege. Grant, fresh off his victory at Vicksburg, took charge of the entire Department of the Mississippi. He rode to Chattanooga, replaced Rosecrans, and lifted the siege of the city, driving back Bragg’s army (Figure 15.19). Between his victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, Lincoln felt that he had finally found the general to win this war for him. Congress revived the position of Lieutenant General, Grant received an appointment to it, and on March 3, 1864, he took command of all Union forces. After giving William T. Sherman command in the west, he quickly came to Washington and began to prepare a grand strategy for all of the Union forces, a combined effort to grind down the Confederates until they could do nothing but surrender. 

15.35 - Level 1

What U.S. Army rank was re-opened for Grant after his victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga?


Leadership was very important in this war, especially at the top with Lincoln and Davis. At the beginning of the conflict, on paper, Davis was far more qualified than Lincoln to lead a nation at war. Davis was a former Senator, a veteran of the Mexican War, and a former Secretary of War. Lincoln, by contrast, had no such experience, save a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a member of the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War, but he had spent his time in camp and saw no combat. He was not even the consensus choice of the Republican Party, but a compromise candidate. But as the war went on, Lincoln grew into his role, while Davis seemed to be overwhelmed by his. Davis could let nothing out of his hands. He micromanaged everything and interfered in military matters as it suited him. Lincoln let his commanders lead, he never really attempted to tell them what to do beyond “move forward.” Good commanders were promoted, and poor ones were relieved. Davis held grudges, moved up his personal favorites, and was a very morose and sullen man. He was not personable at all, while Lincoln was. People never warmed to Davis, while Lincoln proved himself a natural leader. Moreover, Davis was trying to form a government and military structure on the fly, under the pressure of invasion. Lincoln had the benefit of an established institution upon which he could draw. Thus, as the war ground on, Lincoln and the Union gained strength, while Davis and the Confederacy lost theirs. There has been some debate that if Lincoln had been president of the Confederacy, while Davis had been the Union’s leader, Lincoln would have been able to win independence for the South. There is no way to prove this, but Davis, for all of his training and knowledge, was unable to marshal the South’s resources to defeat the ever-evolving Lincoln.

The South Ground Down

The Confederacy was fast approaching a crisis point. After three years of war on multiple fronts, cut off from the rest of the world by an increasingly effective blockade, the South was starting to run on fumes. While the Union seemed to have an unending supply of men and war material, the Confederates did not. Every soldier captured or killed was irreplaceable. The Vicksburg campaign offered proof of Confederate limitations. The city was under siege for months, and during that time, the Confederate government could not come up with the men to even attempt breaking the siege. Moreover, people at home were suffering. When the Confederates were winning battles, the people of the South found nobility in their sacrifices. Now, however, with the reversals of 1863, these sacrifices were harder to bear. In March and April of 1863, before any of these battlefield losses, women in Richmond were rioting over the lack of bread and other items in the capital. While this riot petered out, these kinds of things would be harder to deal with as losses piled up and men died. Desertions from the army began to increase, and a general tiredness settled over the entire region. While one Confederate may have been able to whip ten Yankees, the South was running out of Confederates, a problem that Grant, as commander, only accelerated.

New Union Strategy

Figure 15.20: U.S. Grant at Cold Harbor after his promotion to Lieutenant General. [14]. ​

Grant had a very simple strategy when he took over Union command: push forward (Figure 15.20). He wanted all Union forces to begin their campaigns at the same time, grapple with the Confederates in front of them, and never let go. It was not an elegant strategy, but it proved highly effective. Grant knew that the Confederacy had stretched its resources very thin at this point. He believed that if the Union advanced on all fronts at one time, and continued to push, at some point the Confederates would break. Furthermore, he knew that they would not have the men and resources to fill such a break. Sherman, Grant’s trusted friend, took command in the West. Meade was retained as the head of the Army of the Potomac, but Grant decided to travel with this army and make sure that it pushed ever forward, something that past commanders had not been known for. Lee would never again be able to slip away from Union forces.

Grant ordered Meade to take the Army of the Potomac South toward Richmond, knowing that Lee would have to place his army in Grant’s way or lose the capital. This began Grant’s Overland Campaign, and the armies came to blows in Virginia, near the Chancellorsville battlefield, in a patch of old growth forest called the Wilderness. The armies fought here for three days, from May 5-7, 1864. It was horrible, confusing fighting. The men could not see in front of them because of the trees and the gunpowder smoke that clung to the woods. The fires that broke out illuminated the skulls of the men who had died a year before. Despite the horrors, Lee stopped Grant’s advance. Union soldiers thought they knew what would happen now. They would retreat, lick their wounds and wait for a new commander to lead them South again later. This is what had always happened. However, that was not to be. As the army pulled out of the line of battle, they discovered as they marched that they were not headed north—they were going around Lee’s flank to the south. The war had changed; a new man was in charge. Officers had to quiet men who cheered when they realized this, but the cheering ended quickly From this point forward, there was no lull in the war in the East, and there would be contact with the enemy and fighting every day, just as Grant wanted.

15.36 - Level 1

On which previous battlefield did the Battle of the Wilderness take place?




Bull Run





The Overland Campaign 

Figure 15.21: Map of the Overland Campaign.​

Grant’s Overland Campaign continued with the seemingly endless string of overlapping campaigns in the spring of 1864, beginning with Spotsylvania Court House (May 8–21) and concluding with the battle of Cold Harbor (May 31–June 12) (Figure 15.21). Grant greatly regretted his attack at Cold Harbor. Entrenched Confederates slaughtered about 10,000 of his men for little gain. However, his general strategy held. He had more men than Lee, and he was constantly grinding him down, never giving Lee the initiative, and always pushing forward toward Richmond. In mid-June, Grant and his army crossed the James River near Petersburg, Virginia. Petersburg was perhaps the most important city in the Confederacy by that point of the war, as the last working railroad line into Richmond passed through the city. Thus, if Petersburg fell, the capital would also fall. Lee could not fall back any further, and so the siege of Petersburg began on June 15. There was no way for the Confederates realistically to lift this siege; outside events were the only hope left to the South.

Question 15.37

15.37 - Level 2

Why did Grant not want to let up on attacking Lee’s army in 1864?

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Sherman Makes Them Howl

Figure 15.22: General William Tecumseh Sherman. [15]​

Sherman was busy as well during this time (Figure 15.22). He had three full armies, over 100,000 men at his disposal, and his target was the important rail junction of Atlanta. To oppose him was General Joseph Johnston, the Confederate general who had lost his command in the east to Lee early in the war. However, Johnston only had a little over 50,000 men to try to stop Sherman. Any battle that required Johnston to meet Sherman would most likely mean the destruction of his army. Thus, Johnston fought by utilizing a delaying action, never risking losing his army. Therefore, he was only able to slow, not stop, Sherman. This angered many in Richmond, and eventually cost Johnston his job. Davis replaced him with a “fighting” general, a Texan named John Bell Hood. From battle wounds, Hood had no use of his left arm and an amputated right leg, but he said he would fight. He did, and he destroyed his army at the Battle of Atlanta (July 20-August 31), losing men the Confederacy could not afford to lose. The city fell to Sherman on September 2, 1864. 

15.38 - Level 1

Who was the “fighting” general who replaced Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign?

The Election of 1864  

Figure 15.23: 1864 Election Map showing electoral college votes.​​

Atlanta could not have fallen at a better time for Lincoln. He was running for re-election in 1864, in the midst of a long and painful war. Lincoln believed for a time that he would lose the election. This was something for which Confederates hoped, and it was the reason the Lee and others continued holding out. If Lincoln lost the election, there was still hope for the Confederate cause. The Democrats put together a platform that called for a negotiated peace, something that would result in the independence of the Confederacy. The Democrats put forward as their candidate General George McClellan, who was still immensely popular with the nation. McClellan did not hold well to the platform, as he did not like calling the war a failure. However, the nation had a clear choice, and all Lincoln had been able to put forward were casualty lists from Grant’s Overland Campaign. The Fall of Atlanta boosted Union morale and pushed Lincoln to re-election. The war was on its way to a bloody finale. As the election map shows, Lincoln won an overwhelming victory (Figure 15.23). Northerners wanted to see this conflict through to its conclusion. 

March to the Sea

Figure 15.24: Engraving of Sherman’s Troops March to the Sea. [16]​

While Grant and his army manned trenches around Petersburg, probing for a hole in the Confederate lines, Sherman moved out of Atlanta, and began his famous March to the Sea in November 1864. Sherman believed that the Confederacy was a hollow shell. It was strong around the edges, but once you pierced it, there was nothing in the center. He planned to prove this by cutting his supply line, living off the land, and marching through the heart of the Confederacy (Figure 15.24). As he went, his army took supplies, destroyed farms and industrial works, and ripped up railroads, all in an attempt to destroy the South’s ability to continue the war. On December 21, 1864, Sherman reached the sea and was able to present the city of Savannah, Georgia as a Christmas present to President Lincoln. When Grant took command of all Union forces, he hoped to push on the Confederacy from all sides until the South could not hold back the federal advance any longer. The break Grant worked for came in the West with Sherman’s March. It took longer than expected, but it had come at last. Now it was just a matter of time before Lee and Richmond would realize that the war was over. 

15.39 - Level 1

What city did Sherman present to Lincoln as a Christmas present?









Figure 15.25: The Burning of Columbia, Harper's Weekly, v. 9, no. 432 (April 8, 1865), p. 217. [17]

The Final Moves at Richmond and Appomattox

The winter of 1864-5 was cold in the trenches around Petersburg. Lee knew that he could not hold out much longer. Grant constantly extended his lines around Lee’s flank, forcing him to extend his own lines in response. Soon, there would not be enough soldiers to man the trenches. All that remained of the Confederacy was the area between Lee’s army in Virginia and the army facing Sherman as he moved north from Savannah towards South Carolina. “Army” is perhaps too grand a word for the collection of forces that Joseph Johnston had at his disposal when he returned to command after Hood’s disastrous performance. Sherman marched north into South Carolina, eventually taking the city of Columbia on February 17, 1865 (Figure 15.25). Columbia burned after its fall, but there are some questions as to why. Some felt Sherman’s troopers did it as vengeance for secession, others that it began as Confederates who were leaving the city burned the cotton stored there. Nonetheless, the city burned, and Confederate morale sank. Moreover, in January 1865 after fierce debate, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ending slavery in the United States forever. While it took until December 1865 for enough states to ratify the amendment, the South now understood that the loss of the war would also mean the end of slavery. 

Figure 15.26: Lee Surrenders at Appomattox Court House by Thomas Nast. [18]​

With the coming of spring, Lee saw scant hope for victory. He knew that his position around Petersburg was untenable. The only slim hope that he saw was to break out of his current position, join forces with Johnston in North Carolina, beat Sherman’s army, and then try to deal with Grant. In a last-ditch effort, the Confederate government permitted the recruitment of slaves into the army to bolster the number of forces the Confederacy had at its disposal. This was a long shot at best, and as it happened, Grant’s forces struck first. He attacked Lee’s lines on April 1, 1865 at the Battle of Five Forks and turned his flank. Attacking again the next day, Grant achieved the breakthrough he had been working toward and Lee retreated. Petersburg and Richmond surrendered on April 3, and the Confederate government went on the run to escape Union forces. Lee retreated westward, hoping to find supplies and turn south to meet up with Johnston. However, his men were exhausted, and Union forces trapped the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered on April 9 (Figure 15.26). While some scattered resistance remained, the Civil War ended on that date. Lincoln was only able to savor his victory for five days before he was assassinated on April 14 by John Wilkes Booth (Figure 15.27). 

Figure 15.27: Poster offer reward for Lincoln’s assassination conspirators. [19]


Figure 15.28: Sketch of the Union lines at Petersburg by Alfred Rudolph Waud. [20]

The Civil War was an awful war; technology had changed, and the defense had the edge. Rifled muskets and a new kind of bullet, the Minié ball, allowed accurate fire from 250-300 yards away (Figure 15.28). The old tactics of massed infantry charging the enemy would not work, but they still constantly saw use. The trench warfare around Petersburg, and the difficulty Grant had with forcing Lee’s position, hint at what was to come in later wars, especially World War I. When hostilities commenced, no one recognized what the Civil War was going to be like. Southerners did not understand how the blockade of their coasts would cut them off from the world. They also did not see how slavery would, in the end, keep them from winning their independence. While slavery supported their entire way of life and their war effort, it also kept foreign governments from intervening in the conflict once the end of slavery was the focus. Then it was just a matter of time as the North wore down the South until there was no way for the region to fight on. Slavery was put on the path to destruction during the war with the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Now the eleven ex-Confederate states had to be reintegrated into the Union, and the South—and the nation—faced a whole new world, a world brought into being by war, a reconstructed world that would continue to be marked by violence, and a federal government that possessed much greater power than it had before the start of the conflict. 

Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Class Discussion 15.01

Class Discussion 15.01 - Level 2

Why did the South feel the need to leave the Union as soon as Lincoln won the election?

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Class Discussion 15.02

Class Discussion 15.02 - Level 2

What did the First Battle of Bull Run show both sides about what kind of war this was going to be?

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Class Discussion 15.03

Class Discussion 15.03 - Level 4

How was Grant’s command style different from McClellan’s?

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Class Discussion 15.04

Class Discussion 15.04 - Level 2

How did the freedmen participate in the war effort and how did this participation change over time?

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Class Discussion 15.05

Class Discussion 15.05 - Level 3

Did Lincoln think that he was going to win the Presidential Election of 1864? Why or why not?

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Suggested Additional Material

  • Ayers, Edward L. In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.
  • Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
  • Manning, Chandra. What This Cruel War Was Over. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
  • McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Royster, Charles. The Destructive War, The: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Answers to In-Chapter Discussion Questions

Answer to Question 15.03

The best example of a dangerous sectional conflict before the Civil War would be Bleeding Kansas. Northerners and Southerners poured into the Kansas Territory in the mid-1850s and fought with each other to determine if the area would be slave or free. Many died in this bloody pre-cursor to the Civil War.

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Answer to Question 15.09

Sumter would be the test of whether the newly formed Confederacy was a nation or not. First, a foreign power controlling land in your territory does not go far in proving that you are nation. Moreover, the people around Sumter may fire on the fort without orders, showing the government could not control its own people. Thus, Davis had to use Sumter to prove that the Confederacy should and could exist.

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Answer to Question 15.10

There is not good option here. If you allow Lincoln to hold the fort then you are not really a nation, if your fire on it you start the Civil War. The firing though was the only good option if the Confederacy wanted to be an independent nation, which is why Davis gave the order.

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Answer to Question 15.13

Chesnut thought that the Confederacy would win, but recognized the horrors of war. Her diary captured the feeling of elation for many Southerners that they were finally their own nation with a hint of caution that there was no way for any of them to know how the war would eventually turn out.

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Answer to Question 15.16

Scott’s plan was to surround and choke to death the Confederacy, much as an anaconda kills its prey. He planned on blockading southern ports to cut them off from the world and then cutting the region in two by taking the Mississippi River. This pressure on all sides was the only way to win a war that would require conquering an area so large.

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Answer to Question 15.22

Capturing the river would cut the Confederacy in two, allow Union armies to penetrate far into the interior, and keep needed supplies from west of the river away from the main centers of the war. It was a necessary step in the wearing down of the Confederate war effort.

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Answer to Question 15.24

At a basic level, do the people support the end goals of the war, whether that goal is self-defense, independence, or something else, there has to be a basic buy-in on the goal. But, after that, the day-to-day grind of war has a great effect on support. Is your side winning battles? Is the end in sight? Casualties, food shortages, supply shortages, loss of territory, all play roles in home front morale. People can hold up to a lot of strain in a time of war, but the longer war goes on, the more these issues have an effect.

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Answer to Question 15.26.

First, the North came to support the war effort to weaken the South. Without their slave labor, the South would face shortages of all kinds and would have to keep troops away from the front to keep slaves under control. Second, the army itself played a role. Once northern soldiers entered the South, many of them encountered slaves for the first time and saw them as people. This pushed many in the army to accept that slaves needed to be freed as a war goal.

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Answer to Question 15.27

Lincoln was willing to do whatever it took to end the war. If abolishing slavery would end the war sooner, he was more than willing to do it. But, it McClellan had been successful on the Peninsula in 1862, the war would have ended without the abolition of slavery. There had been no discussion of ending slavery at that point in the war. The goal at that point was reunion, which could have been accomplished without ending slavery.

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Answer to Question 15.29

McClellan was an excellent organizer. The army under his command was well fed, well supplied, and well trained. His soldiers loved him for this, and he cared for them as well. This was a weakness though as he never wanted to commit his forces to battle. He constantly believed that he was outnumbered and always, when the chance existed for him to strike a decisive blow, he backed away.

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Answer to Question 15.30

Lincoln had to tread carefully with the border states. He did not want them to leave the Union as the rest of the slave states had done. He feared that any interfering with slavery in those states could cause them to secede. Moreover, legally, he did not think he had the power to do anything with slavery in the border states. He used his power as Commander-in-Chief to take slaves from Confederates as a war measure. This power would not exist in places not openly in rebellion against the government.

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Answer to Question 15.32

Lincoln reframed the meaning of the Union, not just as a government, but as a call for equality, that the government was a symbol of freedom, not just a governing document. Lincoln does this by drawing on the Declaration of Independence and the sacrifice of those who gave their lives at this battlefield. That both were symbols of the fight for freedom, not just for Union.

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Answer to Question 15.33

Just as he had the summer before, Lee invaded the North to try to change the course of the war and bring relief. Virginia had been ravaged by the war so far, and bringing the battle to the North would help relieve some of the pressure on the area. Moreover, the South need a victory on northern soil to prove to the world that they deserved recognition and support.

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Answer to Question 15.37

Grant felt that this was the only way to win the war. The Confederacy would not give up fighting as long as they could still take the field. Thus, the only way to end the war was to destroy the South’s ability to make war, and this included killing as many southern soldiers as possible.

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Answers to Pre-Class Discussion Questions

Answer to Class Discussion 15.01

Lincoln winning the election, without a single vote in the South, was a sign to Southerners that they could no long protect slavery in the Union. If the North could elect a president, they could end slavery, it was only a matter of when they would flex their political muscles and do it.

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Answer to Class Discussion 15.02

Both sides had initially believed that the war would be quick. One battle then on to the other’s capital. This is not what happened. A battle was fought; the Union lost and fell back to regroup, and then the campaigns began anew. This was not going to be short war, this was going to a war that was both bloody and long.

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Answer to Class Discussion 15.03

McClellan was an organizer who loved the limelight, but he always feared losing and feared to use his troops in battle. Grant was quiet, with a definite idea of how to win the war, by grinding down the Confederate army, he knew there would be casualties, and he knew there would be a lot of them, but he knew they were needed to end the war, so he fought. McClellan would never have taken this approach.  

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Answer to Class Discussion 15.04

At the beginning of the conflict, as slaves escaped to Union lines, the performed much of the grunt work for the army. They were cooks, teamsters, washers, they dug latrines, and performed camp duties. Basically, they performed all of the task that soldiers did not want to do. But, as the war dragged on, they, and others on their behalf, agitated for combat duties. Eventually, freedmen would be allow into combat units to help fight for the freedom of those still enslaved and prove to the nation that they deserved their freedom and hopefully, equality.

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Answer to Class Discussion 15.05

Lincoln feared that he would lose the election of 1864. While the war was turning around, the end was still not in sight. Casualty lists were growing, and he was asking Northerners to continue to send their husbands and sons into the meat grinder. The Democrats had nominated a popular general, McClellan, and Lincoln felt that victory was far from certain. Fortunately for Lincoln, Atlanta fell on September 2, give people hope that the war was coming to an end and boosted him to victory.

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Image Credits

[1] Image courtesy of Connormah in the Public Domain.

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[3] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[5] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[6] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[7] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

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[9] Image courtesy of the Hlj in the Public Domain.

[10] Image courtesy of  the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[11] Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration ARC#  526067 in the Public Domain.

[12] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[13] Image courtesy of The New York Public Library in the Public Domain.

[14] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

[15] Image courtesy of the National Archives ARC# 525970 in the Public Domain.

[16] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[17] Image courtesy of  the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division in the Public Domain.

[18] Image courtesy of Granger Historical Picture Archive in the Public Domain. 

[19] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division in the Public Domain.

[20] Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division in the Public Domain.