The Turn Of The Tide - The Civil War
army grant south confederate sherman confederacy north union forces southern
Any chance for a final victory escaped the grasp of the Confederacy in 1863. The Union had resolved to press the fight no matter how long it took or how much it cost.
Vicksburg. Through the winter of 1863, Grant maneuvered to capture the Southern fortress at Vicksburg. After marching his army along the swampy west bank of the Mississippi to the south of the city in early May of 1863, Grant thrust swiftly inland to Jackson, Mississippi. He then countermarched to the west to Vicksburg, and settled down to a siege. After six weeks, the garrison and town's inhabitants, suffering from hunger, constant shelling, and disease, finally capitulated on July 4, 1863. Five days later, the last Confederate post on the Mississippi River, Port Hudson, surrendered. Grant had cleared the great river and split the Confederacy into two.
Gettysburg. In the East, Lee's army maneuvered the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker into a disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville. Taking cover in the dense woods around this hamlet, Lee opened his attack on May 1, 1863. Though the Northern army had a clear advantage (its manpower was double that of Lee), Hooker retreated into a strong defensive position. On May 2, Lee detached Jackson to push through the undergrowth where he could launch an attack upon Hooker's right flank. In the resulting confusion, the Army of the Potomac began to retreat along its entire front, not stopping until it had withdrawn north of the Rappahannock River. The victory was costly for Lee; Jackson, accidentally wounded by his own men, died eight days later. He was one of more than 30,000 casualties sustained by the two combatants.
Lee now carried the war into the North for the first time. General George Meade, who had replaced Hooker in command of the Army of the Potomac, cautiously followed as Lee advanced across Maryland into Pennsylvania. By late June, Southern cavalry under Ewell had ridden within sight of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. At the same time, Lee realized that Meade's forces, having marched along interior lines, were nearing his own army. He issued an order for a troop concentration at Gettysburg.
High Tide of the Confederacy. On July 1, the greatest battle of the war - the battle of Gettysburg - began. Ewell, returning with his cavalry from near Harrisburg, swept through Gettysburg but failed to seize immediately the fishhook-shaped row of hills known as Cemetery Ridge. Instead, Union forces, advancing from the south and east, secured Cemetery Ridge, from which they could command the Confederate forces encamped on Seminary Ridge to the west and north. For the next two days the Confederates launched vain attacks upon Little Round Top and Big Round Top at the south flank of the Northern position, and against Culp's Hill at the eastern end. Finally, on July 3, General George E. Pickett, with 15,000 Confederates under his command, made a frontal attack on Cemetery Ridge. In the assault, Confederate losses were enormous; though some Southern troops reached the crest of the ridge, they were soon compelled to retreat. As they fell away, the Southern tide began to ebb. Lee's army retreated southward into Virginia, never to return. The nation itself was appalled when it learned the cost of this, the greatest battle of the Civil War-51,112 casualties. But the South now knew that the North could not be destroyed. It remained for the North to discover whether the South could be conquered.
Chattanooga. In the West, federal troops under General William Rosecrans who had occupied Chattanooga prepared to invade northern Georgia. The Southern commander, Braxton Bragg, had been reinforced by James Longstreet's corps, detached from Lee in Virginia. On September 20, 1863, the combined Southern force inflicted a severe reverse on Rosecrans at Chickamauga; only the stubborn resistance of General George Thomas prevented complete disaster from enveloping the federal forces.
Lincoln moved swiftly to break the ensuing siege of Chattanooga, sending Grant and Sherman to the rescue. They broke the siege with the Battle of Chattanooga (November 24-25, 1863), and Bragg retreated into Georgia. The stage was set for the drive to the sea, some five hundred miles away.
The Period Of Total War
Walt Whitman noted that by May of 1863 "the wounded are getting to be common and the people grow callous." Both sides had grown cold and indifferent to human suffering. The Confederate Partisan Raider John S. Mosby refused to refrain from bombardment of trains filled with women and children, commenting that he "did not understand that it hurts women and children to be killed any more than it hurts men." It revealed how far the South had lapsed from its professed ideals of chivalry. In camps like Andersonville and Libby Prison in the South, and Point Lookout and Elmira in the North, prisoners of war by the tens of thousands died from starvation, disease, and neglect.
The Strategy of Total War. By the end of the year, the North was prepared for a relentless drive to victory. In February 1864 Northern command was unified and Grant was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. Union strategy called for a double drive, one against the Army of Northern Virginia and the other into the heart of Georgia. The attack upon Lee was based on simple mathematics: no matter how brilliant his defense, he could not afford the continuous losses that an unrelenting attack would cost. The North now meant to throw the full weight of its manpower into the scales; Lee and his army would be bled to death in a war of attrition. Under Sherman another army would tear out the heart of the Confederacy. The South would be taught the full agony of war. In the lurid flames of burning cities, towns, and plantations, and in the blood of thousands, the fate of the Confederacy would be sealed. The North had declared total war on the South. Before the year had ended a path of destruction was drawn for over a thousand miles from Atlanta to Goldsboro, North Carolina.
From the Wilderness to Petersburg. Grant smashed into Virginia at the head of an army of 100,000 on May 3, 1864. Lee blocked him with some 60,000 troops in the tangled underbrush known as the Wilderness.
There, between May 5 and 6, the Army of the Potomac sustained losses in excess of 18,000, while Lee lost somewhat more than 8,000. Despite the bloody losses, Grant refused to slacken his advance. He plunged forward, only to be blocked at Spotsylvania Courthouse by Lee (May 7-20, 1864). There, on Confederate entrenchments, Grant lost more thar 11,000 men. Still Grant pushed on. Once again Lee retreated in ar effort to keep his army between Grant and Richmond. On June 3, Grant attacked Lee's entrenched men at Cold Harbor; eight minutes later some 7,000 federal troops were casualties. The carnage shook ever Grant. He subsequently confessed, "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made." In a month of fighting, the two armies had lost more than 82,000 men. Grant was still outside Rich• mond, but he had dealt a mortal blow to Lee. Although replacements could be found for Northern losses, Southern losses were irreplaceable.
Sheridan and the Shenandoah. Unable to smash Lee's army, Grant, advancing always to the left, reached Petersburg, to the south of Richmond, where he settled down to a siege, and so immobilized Lee's army. Lee's efforts to lure Grant away by sending General Jubal A. Early to attack Washington failed; Early was repulsed. Grant then determined to clear the Shenandoah Valley of Confederate forces. He sent General Philip H. Sheridan with a force of 40,000 men to remove all ability of the region to furnish supplies to Confederate armies. The brilliant cavalry general swept up the valley, mercilessly destroying everything in his path. When, on October 19, Early suddenly attacked the Union force at Cedar Creek while Sheridan was absent, "Little Phil" returned to rally his men and destroy Early's force. From that moment the valley's threat was ended. The South could no longer obtain provisions in this fertile valley, nor could its armies use it as an avenue of approach to Washington. Bitterly, the valley's inhabitants complained that a crow flying over the devastated region would have to bring its own rations.
Atlanta to the Sea. As Grant was hammering Lee's army to death in Virginia, General William T. Sherman launched his drive on Atlanta.
In Joseph E. Johnston the Union Army faced a skillful antagonist. He forced Sherman to fight for every step he took in the direction of Atlanta, but his delaying tactics, which caused the Union forces to advance by flanking the Confederate force, provoked Jefferson Davis. In July, Davis removed Johnston and replaced him with General John B. Hood, who had a reputation for aggressive fighting. Sherman repulsed two thrusts by Hood on July 20 and 22, and then settled down to a siege of the city. As Union troops slowly inched their way to the south of Atlanta, they threatened to sever Hood's lines of communications. On September 1, the Confederate Army withdrew from the city, and on the next day Sherman entered. A Union Army was now in the heart of the Confederacy. Admiral Farragut had already, on August 5, closed the harbor of Mobile. In November, Sherman left Atlanta in flames and began his march to the sea. Four great columns moved relentlessly across an almost defenseless Georgia. Throughout a sixty-mile-wide swath, railroads, bridges, towns, plantations, and farmhouses were destroyed. Only desolate wilderness remained to mark the progress of Sherman's army. Hood's army, hastening westward in hopes that it could force Sherman to retreat, found itself ignored. Hood then decided to try to inflict commensurate damage on Union forces in Tennessee. Instead, he was first repulsed at Franklin on November 30, 1864, and finally overwhelmed by Thomas at Nashville on December 15-16, 1864. With his defeat, for all practical purposes, the only effective forces left in the Confederacy were concentrated in the east. On December 21, Sherman entered Savannah; and the South, initially split by Grant's conquest of the Mississippi, had now been quartered.
The Invasion of South Carolina. For six weeks, Sherman and his army rested. Then, on February 1, 1865, they marched into South Carolina. The destruction inflicted in Georgia paled in comparison with the fate meted out to the Palmetto State, where the seeds of secession had sprouted. The city of Charleston was already ruined by more than two years of siege. Destruction came to Columbia, capital of South Carolina, on February 17, when it was put to the torch. On March 23, Sherman entered Goldsboro, North Carolina. He no longer sought battle; enough blood had been shed.
The Collapse of the Confederacy. In Richmond, the beleaguered capital of the Confederacy, the Confederate Congress, on March 13, 1865, authorized the arming of slaves as a last desperate measure. Lee had recommended that those slaves who served for the Confederacy should be freed. Robert Toombs, one of the founders of the Confederacy, wondered why the South had been fighting if it now thought of emancipation. In a last desperate effort to prevent utter collapse, Lee ordered an attack on Fort Steadman (March 25); it was an unsuccessful diversion. For the next eight days federal troops mounted ever more emphatic attacks on the remnants of Lee's forces. On April 1, a federal attack was opened against Five Forks; it broke through the Southern lines the following day. On the same day Lee ordered the evacuation of Richmond. The Confederate government began a flight that ended with the capture of Jefferson Davis at Irwinsville, Georgia, on May 10, 1865. For Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia there remained a week of retreat that ended, after bitter fighting, at Appomattox Courthouse, on April 9, 1865. There, a remnant of Lee's magnificent army surrendered. All that remained was to effect the capitulation of the scattered remnants of Confederate strength, a task that was completed before the end of May 1865.