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Last Best Hope of Earth

A Blog Covering US History and Politics

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Civil War

The Battle of the Wilderness

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Robert E. Lee Leading the Texans. By: Don Troiani.

By the spring of 1864, changes were abound on the Union side. Three generals—Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan—had become the preeminent leaders of the northern army. With Congress having revived the rank of lieutenant general, a rank last held by George Washington, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to that rank and bestowed on him the title of general in chief.[i] While the North was in the ascendancy, the Confederate army had suffered through the winter. The Confederate Congress had eliminated substitution, which had allowed wealthy southerners to avoid conscription, and “required soldiers whose three-year enlistments were about to expire to remain in the army.”[ii] Even with Congress taking the extraordinary step of adjusting the draft age range to seventeen years old through fifty years old, the rebels still numbered fewer than half their opponents.[iii] Nonetheless, hope was not lost: a camaraderie pervaded the Southern army—particularly amongst the many veteran soldiers—which was perhaps best encapsulated in General Robert E. Lee’s saying that if their campaign was successful, “we have everything to hope for in the future. If defeated, nothing will be left for us to live for.”[iv] Continue reading “The Battle of the Wilderness”

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The Battle of Chickamauga

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The Site of the Outbreak of the Battle of Chickamauga. Courtesy: Library Photograph Collection.

Near the end of September 1863, Union General William Rosecrans had gathered his men in the valley of West Chickamauga Creek in Georgia, and Confederate General Braxton Bragg was preparing to attack the Union left flank and force a reversal into a nearby valley from which Rosecrans could not escape.[i] The maneuver would be the ideal Confederate response to the federal successes at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Fortunately for the federal troops, September 18 brought Confederate inaction and allowed General George Thomas, known as “Old Slow Trot” or “Pap” to his men, to reinforce Rosecrans’ left line.[ii] The next morning dawned what would become the “bloodiest battle in the western theater of the war.”[iii] Continue reading “The Battle of Chickamauga”

The Battle of Gettysburg

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The Battle of Gettysburg. By: Mort Künstler.

By the spring of 1863, the Union had given the Confederacy every reason to remain defensive: for the duration of the war, federal troops had invaded points throughout the south forcing the rebels to shift to the location of each incision. Allowing this dynamic to continue to play out meant the only way for a Confederate success was a negotiated peace. On May 15, the southern brain trust, including General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis, convened in Richmond to discuss strategy. Lee proposed that he lead an effort that would remove the threat to Richmond, throw the Yankees on their heels, spell political doom for the Republicans (led by Abraham Lincoln in the White House), open up the possibility of Britain or France recognizing the Confederacy, and, at worst, an armistice that resulted in the Confederate States of America coexisting with the United States.[i] While Postmaster-General John Reagan and other Confederates felt that Lee should have sent troops to protect Vicksburg and the west from the trouble Ulysses S. Grant and his men were causing, Lee did not want to oblige the Confederacy to remain on the defensive but instead introduce the “prospect of an advance” as it would change “the aspect of affairs.”[ii] Continue reading “The Battle of Gettysburg”

The Siege of Vicksburg

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Grant at Vicksburg. By: Mort Künstler.

In the western theater of war, Ulysses S. Grant had set his sights on a goal early in his campaigning: Vicksburg, a town hugging the Mississippi River on the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Taking the city would not only secure the Mississippi River; taking it would give the Union a lasso around the Confederacy. Just as spring of 1863 was getting underway, Grant had drawn up a plan to take the town and tighten the Union grip on the Confederacy. Continue reading “The Siege of Vicksburg”

The Battle of Chancellorsville

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Stonewall Jackson. By: Mort Künstler.

Joseph Hooker, at the head of the Army of the Potomac, was filled with confidence that he would not suffer the same fate as previous Union commanders facing Confederate General Robert E. Lee. While General Ambrose Burnside and General George McClellan earned their soldiers’ admiration with their leadership, they respectively fell at Fredericksburg and during the Peninsula Campaign and appeared to lack the incisive strategy to defeat Lee. Continue reading “The Battle of Chancellorsville”

The Emancipation Proclamation

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The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. By: Laura Era.

American history is replete with instances of the public pressuring a president to take action on an issue. On far fewer occasions, presidents, through speaking to voters, calling for congressional action, or issuing executive orders, have risked political capital to lead the public to advance on a prominent issue. In the middle of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln convened his Cabinet to discuss taking action on an issue that had been consuming him for weeks but was likely to endanger his bid for reelection in 1864 and was certain to change the direction of the ongoing and increasingly bloody Civil War. Continue reading “The Emancipation Proclamation”

The Battle of Fredericksburg

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My Friend, The Enemy. By: Mort Künstler.

Throughout 1862, the Union embraced a defensive, passive approach to prosecuting the Civil War—shying away from incisive troop movements and relentless pursuits even after battles that left Confederates fatigued and fleeing—while the Confederacy had most recently displayed its more aggressive strategy by its attack near the Antietam Creek in Maryland. At the helm of the Union army, and the epitome of its quiescent nature, stood General George McClellan: a man who had come under fire for his failed Peninsula Campaign and refusal to pursue Confederate General Robert E. Lee after the Battle of Antietam. The latter decision prompted action from the White House. President Abraham Lincoln, whom McClellan had labeled as the “Gorilla,” replaced McClellan with General Ambrose E. Burnside on November 7, 1862.[i] Continue reading “The Battle of Fredericksburg”

The Battle of Antietam

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The Battlefield at Antietam. By: Alexander Gardner.

Years before the Civil War started, Harpers Ferry, Virginia was the site of a federal armory that abolitionist John Brown raided with the hope of starting a revolution, causing distress throughout the Union that a revolution was in the making. In September 1862, Harpers Ferry became a thorn in the Union side yet again as Confederate General Stonewall Jackson raided and easily captured the town which occupied a strategically important position: the intersection of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. After taking the town, Jackson and his men advanced toward Sharpsburg, Maryland and the bubbling Antietam Creek flowing past the outskirts of Sharpsburg.[i] Continue reading “The Battle of Antietam”

The Second Battle of Bull Run

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The Second Battle of Bull Run. By: Mort Künstler

After General George McClellan’s campaign to take Richmond fell flat, he became even more disenchanted with the Lincoln administration but vowed that if provided with 50,000 men, he would mount another attack on the Confederate front.[i] Whether a man who had “lost all regard and respect” for President Lincoln and had called the Lincoln administration “a set of heartless villains” was dedicated to restoring the Union became a question for years to come, and Lincoln recognized that even if he sent 100,000 men, McClellan would find Confederate General Robert E. Lee to have 400,000.[ii] Regardless, a Union general from the Western Theater, John Pope, had come to the Eastern Theater prepared to replace McClellan as the top commander in the East and take on the Confederates with the tenacious and fearless approach to fighting that had characterized the western battles.[iii] Continue reading “The Second Battle of Bull Run”

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