Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Civil War (2) 1863-5

Women in the war

Dorothea Dix
Civilians, especially women, played a large part in the war. Women sewed uniforms, composed poetry and songs, and raised money and supplies. Southern women managed plantations and farms in their husbands’ absence. Northern women organised ‘Sanitary Fairs’ to supply medical and sanitary supplies for the troops. In the North alone some 20,000 women served as nurses or health-related volunteers.  Dorothea Dix became the Union army’s first Superintendent of Women Nurses. Clara Barton set up field hospitals on the battlefield.  On the Confederate side, Sally Tompkins of Richmond nursed wounded men in her private hospital. However the Confederacy never found enough women to serve as nurses.

In November 1861 Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics for ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’.  It was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. It became sung to the words of ‘John Brown’s Body.

The draft

Both armies were originally staffed by volunteers but this had to change. Faced with a shortage of manpower, the Confederacy on 16 April 1862, conscripted all white male citizens aged eighteen to thirty-five to serve in the army for three years. During the course of the war the age limits were extended. However, many were able to claim exemptions or provide a substitute. On 3 March 1863 the Union also introduced conscription.

Draft riots, New York

The draft was seen as un-American and was unpopular in both North and South. In July 1863 the announcement of a draft lottery led to a week of rioting in New York Citywith the blacks the main victims of the violence. Over a hundred people were killed.


One of the reasons for the increasing unpopularity of the war was the North's failure to follow up the victory at Antietam. The Confederacy was far from defeated. Between 11 and 15 December 1862 General Ambrose Burnside was defeated by Lee at Fredericksburg, a key transportation link between Richmond and Washington. In one of the most one-sided battles of the Civil War, 9,000 Union troops were mown down by the Confederates from behind their ridges and stone walls. Men froze or bled to death. Lee said: 

‘It is well that war is so terrible – we should grow too fond of it.’
3000 Confederate troops were lined up in multiple ranks
behind this stone wall for about 600 yards,
and another 3000 were atop the slope behind it,
along with their artillery.
1862 ended with Union morale at a low ebb, with northern Democrats calling for a negotiated peace. Why be drafted into a war that was going nowhere? Yet the Federal army was now just under a million men, twice that of the Confederates. On 26 December a sombre David told the Mississippi legislature that the South was not going to receive foreign recognition or help. The advantage lay with the North - even though this was not always apparent at the time. 


Between 30 April and 6 May 1863 Lee again revealed his tactical brilliance when he defeated the Union Army under General Joseph E. Hooker at Chancellorsville, Virginia.  Following this victory Lee again marched the Army of Northern Virginia though the Shenandoah Valley to begin his second invasion of the north. But there was also a blow for the Confederates, as Stonewall Jackson was wounded by friendly fire and died on 10 May. Chancellorsville turned out to be Lee’s last significant victory. The war was now turning in favour of the Union. 


On 18 May Grant began the siege of Vicksburg on the Mississippi where 30,000 Confederates were pinned down. On 4 July 1863 after a long siege Grant took Vicksburg, 'the Gibraltar of the Mississippi'. Lincoln said: 
‘The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.' 
The Confederacy was now cut in two and the Mississippi had become a Union highway.


On 18 June 1863, hoping to divert the Union troops from the siege of Vicksburg, Lee had moved his army into Maryland. He had come to believe that he and the Army of the Potomac were invincible.  On 1-3 July the key battle of the war was fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac repelled Lee’s advance in what is seen as the turning point of the war. 51,000 men were lost and all hope of invading the north was over. A distraught Lee said: 
‘All this has been my fault’.
 On 4 July the Confederates began their retreat back to Virginia.


On 24 November 1863 Grant captured Chattanooga, the gateway to the eastern Confederacy and the armaments industry of Georgia, thus ensuring that the war in the West was over. It also showed Lincoln that at last he had found a victorious general.  

The Gettysburg Address

On 20 November Lincoln dedicated the Union cemetery at Gettysburg and delivered the 272 word long Gettysburg Address. There is a discussion of this here in Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time' programme.

Grant’s pursuit of Lee

Grant at Cold Harbor
In 1864 Grant’s Army of the Potomac invaded Virginia in the Overland Campaign.  His army was held by Lee in the Battle of the Wilderness  (5-7 May). From 8 to 21 May he fought the indecisive Battle of  Spotsylvania.  At Cold Harbor (1-3 June) the Union suffered appalling losses. From 9 June 1864 to 25 March 1865 he laid siege to PetersburgThe Union army was reinforced by supplies from the James River, while Lee’s army starved inside the town.

Sherman’s march

William Tecumseh Sherman
In 1864 General William T. Sherman succeeded Grant as the Union commander in the western theatre of war. On 2 September he captured the railroad hub of Atlantaa victory which did much to aid Lincoln’s re-election bid.  (He was re-elected on 8 November, beating the Democrat candidate, General George McClellan.) 

Sherman's 60,000 mid-Westerners’ march to the sea through central Georgia and the Carolinas was a total war against the people of the Confederacy.  His forces destroyed over $100 million of property, freed over 40,000 slaves and burned many plantations.  On 21 December he captured Savannah. The Confederacy was now demoralised.

The ruins of Atlanta

The Confederacy surrenders

On April 2, 1865, the Union Army finally captured Richmond. About 25 per cent of the city's buildings were burned in a fire set to destroy supplies by retreating Confederate soldiers; Union soldiers put out the fires as they entered the city.

Richmond in ruins

On 9 April Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

On 10 May Jefferson Davis was captured.

By this time the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery had passed Congress and had been submitted to the states for ratification. On 6 December 1865 it became part of the Constitution. 

Before this, however, Lincoln was dead, having been shot by John Wilkes Booth on 14 April. He died the following morning.


  1. The cost of the war was enormous. Three million Americans fought. Out of a total US population of 31.4 million, more than 617,000 died, many more from disease than from battle. At Shiloh (April 1862) more died in two days than in all the previous American Wars combined.  At the battle of Cold Harbor (May-June 1864), 7,000 died in twenty minutes. 
  2. It was the first modern war, the first to use ironclad ships and railways.
  3. It did not necessarily begin as a war about slavery but the Emancipation Proclamation made it a key issue. Black regiments played a significant role in the Union victory.
  4. The war left a legacy of bitterness in the South, intensified by the clumsiness of the post-war Reconstruction programme.

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