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] Read more
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] Read more
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] Read more
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] Read more
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] Read more
Winfield Scott was “one of the greatest soldiers the United States Army has ever produced,” fighting in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 778.