American Civil War

The American Civil War was fought between the free states (and five border slave states) and the eleven slave states who declared a secession from the U.S. In this section, you can remember the battles and leaders of the deadliest war in American history.

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366 days ago

One hundred fifty years ago today was fought one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War: the Battle of Second Manassas. Fought on roughly the same battlefield as the war's first battle, it pitted the newly-formed Federal Army of Virginia against the Southern forces. General John Pope, who had seen success in the Western theater of the war, was arrogant and cocky, telling his new Eastern troops that in the West "we had always seen the backs of our enemies." Unfortunately for Pope, this time he was up against the Confederate's First Team, led by the redoubtable Robert E. Lee.

Pope's army was organized into three corps; the First Corps (formerly Fremont's) led by Major-General Franz Sigel, the Second Corps led by Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks, and the Third Corps led by the always-unlucky Major-General Irvin McDowell, the losing general in the First Battle of Manassas a year earlier.

Two months earlier, General Robert E. Lee had thwarted the Union Army of the Potomac (under General George B. McClellan) and its attempt to capture Richmond in a desperate fight known as the Seven Days Battles. With McClellen having retreated up the peninsula, Lee knew that he could not afford to let the two armies come together, which would create a force that would greatly outnumber his own. Lee decided his best chance would be to go north and kick the crap out of Pope, then deal with McClellan later.

After defeating Banks's Corps at Ceder Mountain on Aug. 9, Stonewall Jackson took his troops (the Army of Northern Virginia was divided into two "wings" led by Jackson and General Longstreet) into Northern Virginia. Pope's army was increased to over 77,000 troops with the addition of reinforcements, particularly General Reno's two divisions sent up from Fredericksburg as well as divisions from the Army of the Potomac. Failing to find a weak spot in Pope's line, Lee decided to do a wide flanking maneuver around the Federal right, sending Jackson up to capture the supply depot at Manassas Junction, just thirty miles from Washington D.C. Pope was thoroughly confused, ordering his divisions here and there, clueless as to what Lee was up to. Realizing that Jackson was in Manassas, Pope thought he could trap Jackson and win a glorious battle. Jackson, greatly outnumbered and realizing his predicament, retreated a few miles to a strong defensive position at Sudley Mountain (Stony Ridge).

Jackson opened the battle by attacking General John Gibbon's Iron Brigade which was marching on the Warrenton Turnpike heading towards Manassas. It was a bloody but inconclusive fight since it was so late in the day, with neither side giving quarter. Pope, thinking that Jackson was going to retreat, planned on hitting Jackson's flanks on the next day, the 29th. Jackson, however, held a good defensive position on Stony Ridge with an unfinished railroad grade in front of his line, which was about two miles long, and Jackson's flanks were supported by Gen. Stuart's cavalry.

On the morning of August 29, 1862, the Federals attacked Jackson's line. The Confederate line was behind the railroad cuts and embankments, and repulsed the Federal attack. Although greatly outnumbered, Jackson held on throughout the day. Union General Fitz John Porter had been ordered by Pope to attack Jackson's right, but Porter found his way blocked by Confederate troops; unknown to Pope, it was Longstreet's entire force sitting patiently on Pope's flank, waiting for the opportune moment to strike.

Jackson's left had been pushed back by the relentless Union attack. Longstreet refused to attack, thinking that the time to hit the Federals had not yet arrived. Pope, under the delusion that the Confederates were about to retreat, did not realize that the entire Army of Northern Virginia was on the field. McClellan, just a few miles away with 25,000 troops, did not come to Pope's aid, for he wanted Pope to fail (what teamwork!)

The Union Army renewed its attack the next day. Jackson's men, running out of ammo, were reduced to hurling rocks at the attacking Federal troops. It was at this time that the opportune moment had arrived; Longstreet hit the Federal left with 25,000 troops. The clueless and luckless Pope, thinking he was about to secure a great victory, was now fighting for survival. It was only a determined defense by Gen. Reynolds around Henry House Hill, the famous landmark of First Manassas, that kept it from being a complete rout, allowing the Union Army to retreat to Centerville. The next day (Sept. 1) Lee tried to get his army between the Federals and Washington, but was stopped at the battle of Ox Hill. Pope was soon relieved of command and sent back west to fight Indians, and Lee decided to head north to a little town called Sharpsburg.

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519 days ago

Today is March 28, and on this date in history, in 1862, we witness the last day of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, that emerged as a Union victory and decisive in the West. Henry H. Sibley had lead a Confederate invasion from Texas with the objective to break Union control in the area and establish a Confederate territorial structure. After a series of successes, Sibley fought this battle that ostensibly was a Confederate victory but lead to a Confederate retreat after the battle because of logistical problems. The retreat continued until the Confederates abandoned New Mexico altogether and never ventured west of Texas for the rest of the war.

Sibley's New Mexico campaign was a strategic defeat for the Confederate cause although one wonders what the Confederate Government could have accomplished in New Mexico where slavery had been abolished when it was part of Mexico and there were no slaves or a large group of southern supporters.

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567 days ago

This week marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most important campaigns in the Civil War; U. S. Grant's campaign against Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. After ten months since the beginning of the war, the North had little to crow about.
Grant had just put together the core of what was to become one of the most successful armies of the Civil War, the Army of the Tennessee. Along with Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, a crusty old navel officer who had as much gumption as Grant when it came to fighting.
These two forts were the Confederate's only defense for the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, and if they fell, the Union could waltz into middle Tennessee. Both forts were poorly designed, and to make matters worse, heavy rains had caused a lot of flooding (in fact, just a couple of days later, Ft. Henry was flooded and underwater). Foote sailed his ironclads up to the fort, and bombarded the fort into surrender. This opened the Tennessee River to the Union all the way to Alabama. Grant marched his army overland to Fort Donelson, and surrounded the fort. Confederate General Floyd actually attacked and broke open the Union lines, allowing the Confederate army to escape, but for reasons known best to Floyd, did not take advantage of the opportunity and marched his army back to the fort. The next day (Feb. 16), knowing that defeat was inevitable, Floyd turned command of the fort over to Confederate General Pillow (the only Confederate general whom Grant spoke of with complete contempt), and Floyd skedaddled. Pillow likewise turned command over to Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner, an old friend of Grants who, before the war, had lent Grant money when Grant was flat broke. When Buckner asked Grant what sort of terms he would propose for surrender, Grant issued his famous reply: "No terms but immediate and unconditional surrender will be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." Thus the first of three Confederate armies Grant would swallow up whole during the war surrendered, and the Union had its first bona fide hero, and its first great victory in the war. Grant would henceforth be known as "Unconditional Surrender Grant" (a play on his initials), and Grant moved his army south along the Tennessee to Shiloh, where he would meet up with Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston in April.

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602 days ago

McCulloch was famed pre-war for being an expert in scouting, path-finding and horsemanship - indeed he was one of the foundes of the Texas Rangers.

He made his name as a soldier at the Battle of San Jacinto where he made excellent use of grapeshot from his two cannons against Mexican Positions then became widely respected as an expert Indian fighter. On the back of this fame he sought a position in the Texas House of Representatives, during the election campaign he was involved in a duel with Reuban Ross that resulted in crippling his left arm perminantly.

Leaving politics he returned to Scouting and his reputation once more increased in actions against the Comanches at the Battle of Plum Creek, and again in resisting Mexican incursions into Texas under Rafeal Vasquez - he was a prominant figure in driving the Mexicans from San Antonio back across the Rio Grande. When th Mexicans invaded again he once more rose to the challenge but this time things did not go so well and he and his brother just barely managed to avoid Capture int he Somervell Expedition.

In the Mexican-American War McCulloch raised a mounted milita group of Rangers which became Company A in Colonel Hays regiment of Texas Volunteers. This company was famous for being able to cover 250 miles in ten days or less. Zachary Taylor picked McCulloch to be his chief scout and this led to McCulloch becoming famous nation wide for daring exploits in the role, slipping between the lines undetected and once coming within a mile of Santa Anna's tent. He led mounted infantry at the Battle of Monterrey and saved Taylor's army from destruction through his reconnaisance before the Battle of Buena Vista.

By the Mexican-American War's end he was the chief Scout for David Twiggs. After the war he joined the Gold Rush in California but was unsuccessful. He became sherrif of Sacremento the same day his old commander Colonel Hays became sherrif of San Fransisco. Sam Houston and Thomas Rusk attempted to get him a commission in the US Military but his lack of a formal education prevented this. President Franklin Pierce promissed him the command of teh US Second Cavalry but the Secretary of War Jefferson Davis gave the position to his friend and idol Albert Sidney Johnston. He was eventually made US Marshal of the Eastern District of Texas and served in that role under Presidents Pierce and Buchannon but the prejudice he suffered for his lack of a formal education led him to spend most of his time reading up on military science.

When Texas seceeded he was automatically made a Colonel. He raised 1,000 troops and surrounded his old Commander Twiggs at San Antonio. Twiggs surrendered and handed over Federal property in the area. This resulted in McCulloch's promotion to Brigadier General and transfer to command of the Indian District. McCulloch then devoted himself to building the Army of the West using troops from Texas, Arkansas and Louisana.

However McCulloch's authority west of the Mississippi was not absolute. In Missouri former Governer turned General Sterling Price had already had some successes on the Battlefield and commanded a force of similar size to McCulloch's Army of the West. Price believed the Confederates should take the war to the Federals as soon as possible and drive them out of Missouri. McCulloch disagreed, arguing that there was not the manpower of logistics to do so. Instead he sought to consolidate a defensive line in Arkansas while building an alliance with the Indian tribes in the area - the Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek Nations - and relying on them to keep the Federals busy and dispersed.

Nevertheless he was forced to commit to battle at Wilson's Creek following the aggressive campaigning of Nathanial Lyon. McCulloch reported a shortage of ammunition per man and in depots prior to the battle and additionally to his disagreements with Price he did not think highly of the Missouri troops on hand, believing them poorly armed, poorly trained, ill-disciplined and led by politicians who did not have any idea what they were doing. This led to McCulloch's reluctance to commit to an agressive offensive when Lyon's army may have been destoryed for fear of a lack of meaningful support from the Missourians. Wilson's Creek was a major victory for the Confederates but there was little cooperation between McCulloch and Price and the chance for a crushing victory had been lost.

In the aftermath of Wilson's Creek McCulloch chose to pull back into Arkansas while Price chose to press on into Missouri. The two continued to quarrel and Davis, not prepared to chose one above the other, sought a commander to place above them to keep the peace. His first asked Braxton Bragg who turned the position down, then he offered the position to Henry Heth who also refused, finally he offered the job to Earl Van Dorn who accepted.

Van Dorn united Price and McCulloch to create a larger Army of the West and began an expedition towards St. Louis against McCulloch's protests. In the expedition McCulloch provided expert reconnaisance and commanded the right wing of the Army at Pea Ridge where he fell mortally wounded while scouting enemy positions. His second in command James McIntosh was killed moments later in a cavary charge while trying to recover McCulloch's body and that was the end of the right wing of the Army of the West.

Earl Van Dorn was to blame for McCulloch's death, the collapse of the Right Wing of the Army of the West and the dismal failure of the Expedition. If he had heeded McCulloch's advice then Pea Ridge would never have been fought, if he had paid more attention to his right wing while the battle was being fought he could have placed another man in charge when McCulloch and McIntosh fell to keep cohesion and his decision to abandon the baggage train left the Army of the West undersupplies and in a bad positon once the attack failed.

The loss of McCulloch was a great tragedy for the Trans-Mississippi theater. He had counciled a cautious strategy for the area, a defence focused on Arkansas with raids into Missouri and a close reliance on the Indians. With his death and the failures of Van Dorn Pea Ridge became a disaster and Arkansas was left unprotected.

Perhaps the most famous thing about McCulloch as a Confederate General was his refusal to wear his Generals uniform. He was never fond of uniform and instead went to battle wearing a black velvet civilian suit and Wellington boots.

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603 days ago

Sherman was a little cracked around the edges, but as the war dragged on, he came into his own.

The war at the beginning was fought under the old 18th Century gentleman's rules. As time and casualties mounted, political pressure mounted to end it all.

Sherman was a far seeing strategist who could see what it would take to defeat the Confederacy, and he used the indirect approach to do so.

It seems to be the curse of many generals to think only of the direct attack and slogging it out. That is the direct approach. The indirect approach strikes at the strategic center of the enemy and attempts to go through a weaker area.

In the American Civil War, the east was the direct approach and the west was the indirect approach.

In the west, the Union cut off the western part of the Confederacy by capturing New Orleans and controlling the Mississippi River.

Grant's brilliant Vicksburg campaign accomplished that and basically on the same date, July 3-4, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg in the East accomplished very little.

Sherman could see that taking Atlanta was a key to the defeat of the Confederacy. After he took Atlanta, he planned the March to the Sea, a classic example of the indirect approach. At first Grant and Lincoln opposed it, but Sherman had their confidence and prevailed.

The gloves came off and Sherman and his army made modern war on Georgia, and later South Carolina. Industries, railroads, commodities were wrecked and burned. The shock to and drop of morale caused by an unstoppable Union army in the heart of the deep South was a severe blow to the Confederacy.

Sherman's unstoppable march north doomed Lee in Virginia, but the Union armies in the east were fortunate that Lee ran out of gas before Sherman arrived on the scene, thus gaining the glory for the armies in the east.

A brilliant soldier, Sherman deserves the glory that is his today. His humanity later in life towards his former enemies and towards his old soldiers also gives great credit to his name.

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603 days ago

Longstreet was a brilliant soldier, but often had his counsel ignored or downplayed. He criticized Lee after the war and earned much opprobrium for it. He also became a Republican and held several offices under Republican administrations. That added to the Southern hatred.

He was in the doghouse for decades because of the anti-Longstreet attitude of southern historians, but as memories of the Lost Cause continue to fade, historians are giving Longstreet his due.

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603 days ago

I didn't know much about General Curtis until I became interested in the Pea Ridge campaign in Missouri and Arkansas in 1861-62 in the American Civil War. Curtis is largely responsible for securing the Trans Mississippi area for the Union by winning the Battle of Pea Ridge, the Gettysburg of the West.

The battle occurred in March, 1862, and this year is the 150th anniversary. I noticed a small page on Facebook about the event and I am going to have to check it out further.

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608 days ago

Patrick Cleburne was born in Cork, Ireland, and was part of the Protestant upper middle class that was strongly represented in the the future republic before independence. He emigrated to the USA and settled in Arkansas and became a leading member of society there.

When the Civil War broke out, he joined the CSA Army and rose from private to major general.

He was a good soldier and tactician and fought in many battles in the western theater. He was killed at the Battle of Franklin, south of Nashville, Tennessee, in 1864, as a result of the bone headed Confederate commander, J. B. Hood, sacrificing his army.

I found the place where Cleburne died when I visited Franklin a few years ago. Franklin is in the middle of one of the higher if not highest income counties in the country, Williamson, Tennessee, and most of the battlefield is obliterated by development. Cleburne's death occurred in the middle of what is now a strip mall parking lot. There is a small memorial to Cleburne in Franklin, however.

When he realized that the Confederacy was losing the war, Cleburne suggested freeing and arming the slaves. This suggestion was met by polite silence.

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750 days ago

Today is August 10, and on this day in history, in 1861, in Southwest Missouri, near Springfield, we review the Battle of Wilson's Creek, an American Civil War Battle. We have here the first major battle west of the Mississippi River, and it is sometimes called the "Bull Run of the West." Missouri was a slave state, and, therefore, it was important for both sides of the struggle to hold it.

Before the battle the Union had grabbed the advantage by clearing out the Confederates in northern Missouri and capturing the Missouri State Capital at Jefferson City. The Governor of Missouri was for the Confederates, but the Missouri Legislature had a Union majority.

Prior to the start of the campaign ending at Wilson's Creek, Governor Claiborne Jackson and Union General Nathaniel Lyon and his predecessor, had maintained an uneasy truce with Missouri being officially neutral. This ended when Lincoln called for volunteers after the firing on Fort Sumter. Lincoln asked Jackson that the Missouri State Guard be enrolled in federal service. Jackson refused and this ended the truce.

On June 12, 1861, General Lyon and Governor Jackson met in St. Louis to resolve the matter. The meeting ended with Lyon saying: "This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines." The campaign started.

Jackson appointed Sterling Price as commander of the Missouri forces. Lyon chased them across Missouri and several minor battles were fought.

Both sides stood and fought the major battle of Wilson's Creek on this day and the Confederates won the battle. General Lyon fell, becoming the first Union general to be killed in battle in the Civil War.

What was the result of the battle? As far as strategic outcome is concerned, the battle had little effect. The Confederates were heartened by the victory and Jackson, Price and such other sympathetic officials as were on hand formally joined the Confederacy. That is the reason why the Confederate Battle Flag has thirteen stars. Even though only eleven states formally seceded, the Confederates considered that Missouri and Kentucky were part of the Confederacy.

The action of secession by Jackson and Price had little effect and was in fact, illegal. Their actions were not supported by the legislature or the bulk of the people of Missouri. Missouri remained in the Union throughout the war and the Confederate forces were soon forced to leave the state.

See the following article for details of the battle:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Wilson%27s_C reek

General Lyon is an interesting fellow and his article is worth a glance:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Lyon

Sterling Price is an extremely interesting person in history. He refused to surrender at the end of the Civil War, and took his remaining troops into Mexico and founded a Confederate colony near Vera Cruz. Review his article at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterling_Price

The fate of Confederate Missouri Governor, Claiborne Jackson, was downhill after the battle. You can review an article on him at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claiborne_jackson

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761 days ago

UPDATE: Today is July 30, and on this date in history, in 1864, near Petersburg, Virginia, during the American Civil War, we witness the Battle of the Crater. What a horrible battle when you read the details. Please read the review that I left previously.

ORIGINAL COMMENT--FEBRUARY, 22, 2006: I was at the Crater Battlefield about three years ago and I was surprised how much earth is still thrown up around the explosion site. The Crater is located at the Petersburg Siege Lines south of Richmond, Virginia. The Union had Lee under siege.

You all know the tale, I suppose. Pennsylvania miners dug a shaft under the CSA lines, filled it with powder and blew up a large section of the defense. Union troops poured in but rather than going around, they went into the crater. They didn't have ladders and were trapped. The Confederates shot them like trapped rabbits.

A dark side to the battle was that many of the Union troops were from the US Colored Regiments, black troops. The Confederates shot most of them out of hand. The watchword was "Take the white and shoot the ni**er." The movie, Cold Mountain has a good Battle of the Crater scene, and I think is the first time Hollywood tackled the subject. Race was avoided in the movie, but the horror of this fight came across well. 

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