Wars are interesting topics. They are a great base for storytelling, they solve arguments long past, and the real stories from those wars are quite entertaining. Sometimes it’s not just the battles that are interesting, though… sometimes it’s the generals, too. The many battles and generals involved in theAmerican Civil War are easily sorted out.
The generals are many and multifaceted, and they are a great base for the war. each of the generals had a life and career, and many of them had experiences that helped them in the war. Some had West Point education, some had combat experience from the Mexican-American War, and some had both.
Probably the most important general in the war was Ulysses S. Grant, born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822. He attended West Point and fought in theMexican-American War. He played a major part in the war, being the man who pulled all the Union strings, under orders from Lincoln. He also tracked down and inflicted major casualties on the ever-important Army of Virginia under Lee. He held the presidency afterwards and was the youngest man yet to do so. Though he was a penny-pincher, his administration was scandalized by a partner in business. Post-presidency, hehad his friend publish his memoirs, and it happened to be on the day he died that they were published. (Biography.com, n.d.)
William Tecumseh Sherman was Grant’sright-hand man, and he was the one who broke the South’s will to fight through his “scorched earth” policy, otherwise known as “total war”. Born on February 8, 1820, he started off terribly in his military career. He even had to be temporarily relieved of command because his superiors thought he wasn’t quite right in the head. He returned to victory at Shiloh,and devastated Georgia via his infamous “March to the Sea”. He recognized war for what it was: “War is hell.” (Biography.com, n.d.)
Robert Edward Lee was the other biggest general at the time. He was born onJanuary 19, 1807 in Stratford, VA. He commanded his home state’s armed forces after a graduation from West Point and service in Mexican-American War, and then moved up a notch to commander of all Confederate Armies. After the war, he became the president of Washington college, after being defeated by Grant in the war. (Biography.com, n.d.)
Grant had a right-hand man, so who was Lee’s? the answer is the infamous Thomas“Stonewall” Jackson. Born on January 21, 1824, Jackson’s family all died, and he went to West Point. He was teased endlessly by the rest of his class, but luckily this only fueled his determination to succeed. He graduated 17th out of 59 just in time to go to the Mexican-American War. Hewas then a VMI professor until the war, in which time he trained new recruitsfor what would soon to be called the “Stonewall Brigade”. At onepoint in the war Lee said that he’d rather lose his right arm than lose Jackson. But lose him he did, sadly, in the all-important battle of Chancellorsville. (Biography.com, n.d.)
One of the funniest developments in the war general-wise was probably Lincoln’s indecision on a top general. He goes through McDowell, McClellan, Halleck,Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and finally finding Grant. All of those generals had something Lincoln wasn’t satisfied with, and that made him mad. McDowell’s problem was indecision, McClellan was too bossy, Halleck’s problem has never been known, but was probably stubborn, Burnside was defeated too easily, Hooker was way too slow, and Meade was wounded in combat (but was otherwise good!).
It all started when Union troops in the now-seceded South Carolina moved to the unfinished fort Sumter on an island inthe middle of Charleston Harbor. When the nearby Confederate forts surrounding Sumter told them to evacuate or get bombed, the Union said no, and the war began. The Confederate forts surrounding Sumter started a 34-hour bombing of Sumter. At the end of that time, theUnion soldiers surrendered and said they were out. Nobody was killed during the bombing. (Britannica.com, 2017)
The first casualty of the war was not a battle casualty – it was an accident. Onthe way out of Fort Sumter, the Union fired a fifty-gun salute in the parade,and one of the cannons accidentally exploded and killed the cannoneer. So the first casualty of the American civil war was not a military, it was a single cannoneer.
The result of the fall of Fort Sumterwas the first Battle of Bull Run/Manassas. Lincoln called for 75,000 men to support the Union army and quickly end the war. This was attempted by the capture of Richmond by the Union. The first Battle of Bull Run was between US General McDowell, and CS General Beauregard. Each side had about 18000 untrained troops with bad leaders. The Union wanted to surprise the Confederates and attack the left flank, but it was not executed very well, and the Confederates had time to prepare. When the reinforcements under CS Johnston arrived, the Union was pushed back. Stonewall Jackson got his name here and rallying under Jackson the Confederates forced the Yankees to retreat wildly. Lincoln wasn’t too happy with McDowell, and so replaced him with McClellan.
The next battle was the beginning of US General Ulysses S Grant’s career as a military general. When he assaulted Fort Henry in Middle Tennessee, he captured it with ease and gave the Tennessee River to the Union,and opened supply lines for himself as he moved southwards towards the Alabama border.
After the capture of Fort Henry, Grant decided to keep going and capture the next fort down the river, Fort Donelson. This second fort was a little bit harder to capture. Grant’s strategy was to surround the fort and keep it hostage until it surrendered, but CS Brigadier General John Floyd had other ideas. He tried to make a sortie to clear a path to Nashville, Tennessee, but the sortie failed, Floyd was captured, and the fort surrendered. This opened the Cumberland River to the Union, and yet another supply line to Grant as he took large hunks out of the South. Shortly after the battle, McClellan was relieved of his position and replaced by Henry Halleck. (History.com, Battle of Fort Donelson, 2009)
The next battle was in the small town of Shiloh, Tennessee, and was between Grant, who was still moving south, and Johnston and Beauregard’s combined troops. The Confederates surprise attacked Grant as he was traveling and were initially very successful in taking out Grant’s troops; however, General Johnston was killed in the battle as the Confederates retreated.
As Grant took a hunk out of the South,the other super-general at the time, CS Robert E Lee, was attempting to retaliate and take a chunk out of the north. The result of this was the Second Battle of Bull Run. The battle was similar in location and result to the first battle, despite more and better trained soldiers and a new Union rearguard. The Confederates still won, but the Union rearguard kept it from being a complete repeat of the first Battle of Manassas.
The next battle was the bloodiest in American history, with 22,717 casualties in one day. This battle was the Battle of Antietam, inSharpsburg, Maryland. McClellan was not a daredevil, and he did not use the Union advantages; instead he ordered a series of frontal assault charges on the very well prepared Lee. Lincoln was then mad at him for the waste of lives and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside. (Battlefields.com, n.d.)
Burnside was soon tested in fire in thebattle of Fredericksburg. Lee entrenched himself in the Fredericksburg area, and did not move for the majority of the battle. Burnside, on the other hand, made a series of frontal assault charges that were completely unsuccessful. This was one of the most lopsided battles in history, with twice as many Union casualties as Confederate.
To begin 1863, Lincoln made Joseph Hooker Eastern commander and Grant theWestern commander, and gave Grant orders to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi.
The first major battle of the year was the Battle of Chancellorsville, which was remembered as Lee’s “perfect battle” because his dare-devilishness and Hooker’s timidity made this a massive Confederate victory. Unfortunately, many fell in this battle, including the infamous Stonewall Jackson, who fell to friendly fire. Lee’s strategy was to send Jackson and his men on a flanking mission, but after some recon Jackson came back and was accidentally shot by his own guard. J.E.B. Stuart took over for the rest of the day. The Union was nearly routed, and the Confederates were the victors, but it came at no small cost; it was the second bloodiest day in the Civil War. (History.com, Chancellorsville, 2009)
Following his victory at Chancellorsville, Lee decided to take some of the North and a reputation, and so started a campaign to the North. Lincoln made Hooker follow, but quickly realized that he was not a very good (or fast!) general and replaced him with George Meade. Lee was excited for the battle when Meade caught up with him in Gettysburg, and nobody could’ve told what was going to happen next. The first day was light skirmishes, before the whole of the armies were assembled. The next day found both armies laid out in full battle formation and ready to go. They fought until the day ended, and nobody had a victory yet. The third day was the day that it was decided. That fateful morning, Lee launched a heavy attack on the flanks of the Union but made no gains. He then decided to make a risky decision that cost him the battle… and possibly the war. He set up a full-frontal charge on the Union under CS Gen. Longstreet, and charged with the hope of breaking through the Union center. This move was called Pickett’s Charge, and was repulsed with massive loss to the Confederates. This ended Lee’s campaign to the north.
After the charge, Lee told his troops to square up in divisions in case the Union made an advance on the Confederate line, and General Pickett made his infamous statement: “General Lee, sir, I haveno division.” (Berenger)
As the Confederates lost ground in Virginia, Grant topped his achievements off with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He heavily attacked at first, but was repulsed, so he decided to wait out a siege and capture Vicksburg. When this fell from lack of food, the whole of the Mississippi River was Union soil, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two. Texas and Arkansas could no longer help the Confederates, as they were on the other side of the river.
Grant had been doing great in taking out the Deep South, but a mistake by one of his fellow generals, William Rosecrans, against Braxton Bragg in North Georgia, ended the Union campaign to the south. The battle was fought near Chickamauga Creek in Northern Georgia. The Confederates were victors only because of a miscommunication in the Union lines. Rosecrans weakened his lines and created a hole in the center where the Confederates were advancing, and a full third of Rosecrans’ army was immediately off the field. This battle ended the Union Campaign south,but the Union was still way on top of the war.
The next battle was the last of Lee’s victories, Cold Harbor. Like at Antietam, the Union made frontal assaults on the Confederate entrenchments,which produced significant Union casualties and no Confederate casualties. After this, Lee was defense and retreat for the rest of the war, and never put up much of a fight afterwards.
With William Sherman as the new commander of the West and Grant as the East, Sherman decided to move for the Atlanta Campaign. He used no supply lines, and was deep in enemy territory, yet completely crippled the Confederacy in his Atlanta Campaign throughout 1864. As he headed towards Atlanta, Georgia, he made sure to take out the railroad tracks. When he came across one, he had his men take out the railroad ties, pick up the tracks, and bend them around trees. When the Confederates came along later and saw them, they called these strange rail-covered trees“Sherman’s Bow-Ties”. When he reached Atlanta, he captured it and burned it to the ground in the Battle of Atlanta. (Wikipedia.com, 2004)
He continued past Atlanta and captured the capital, Milledgeville, and then Savannah. As he did so, Grant was fending off Jubal Early’s attacks on him in the Shenandoah Valley in Maryland. Grant sacked and burned many of the resources and homes. Jubal Early’s attempts to eradicate the Union in the Shenandoah were unsuccessful, and Early’s troops were destroyed.
As Grant took the Shenandoah Valley, Lee was being besieged in the city of Petersburg. The war was pretty much over at this point, with only two battles and a few treaties to go.
The second to last battle of the war was the siege of Petersburg, which Lee was stuck in Petersburg and besieged by Grant. He was allowed out and allowed to fight one last time in the Battle of Appomattox Court House. After the battle, Lee, the last Confederate Army on the field, surrendered to Grant under very favorable terms on April 9, 1865.
So ended the bloodiest war in American History, with over 620 thousand men dead, all American, and 3% of the entire population; all over a few small arguments over who was free and who wasn’t.
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