As the Civil War began, each side possessed significant strengths and weaknesses.
Advantages of the Union:
Population-22 million as compared to 9 million (3.5 million of those are slaves) in the Confederacy
Industrialization-the North was far better prepared to wage a war than the agricultural South. The North possessed most of the nation’s coal and iron. They had mechanized factories, steady flow of European immigrants to work the factories, and the North could produce more ammunition, weapons, medical supplies, etc. faster and easier than the Confederacy could.
Large railroad network
Small but well-organized navy
Established government and outstanding leadership (Lincoln)
Advantages of the Confederacy:
Psychological-like in all rebellions, the South was fighting for their survival. Most southerners truly believed in the Confederate cause. Everything was riding on this war for them.
Strategic advantages-it didn’t need to conquer the North, it simply had to avoid defeat, expecting that in time the North would give up. Mostly, the Confederacy would be fighting a defensive war on familiar, friendly ground
The Confederates war strategy had 2 main parts:
1. Militarily, the South hoped to preserve its small armies while doing enough damage to grind down the Union’s will to fight.
2. Politically, it hoped to win formal recognition from Britain and France.
Trade with these nations was crucial to the South since the supply of manufactured goods from the North was now cut off.
The Union’s initial strategy was the Anaconda Plan:
1. The Union would blockade southern ports, starving the South of income and supplies.
2. Then, Union forces would drive southward along the Mississippi River.
The Union also faced a tricky political question: how to prevent the secession of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland.
These became known as the Border States. They allowed slavery, but had not yet joined the Confederacy.
Lincoln knew it was crucial to keep them in the Union, so he took no definite stance on slavery. He insisted that his only goal was to save the Union.
Lincoln was successful in keeping the Border States loyal to the Union.
In July 1861, the Confederate and Union troops met outside of Washington DC at the Battle of Bull Run (Bull Run is a creek near Manassas, VA).
Early in the battle the Union troops took the upper hand, but a stand by Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson forced the Union troops to retreat.
Confederates named their hero Stonewall Jackson because, like a stone wall, he refused to yield.
The Battle of Bull Run or Battle of Manassas, is important because it was the first major land battle of the Civil War and it made the war real to many.
It was a shock to those who thought the war would end quickly and who were unprepared for the carnage that modern warfare would produce. In one battle the Union had lost roughly 3,000 men and the Confederacy 2,000.
Lincoln called for more Union volunteers and he brought General George McClellan on board.
Next, Union General Ulysses S. Grant pursued the Mississippi Valley wing of the Anaconda Plan.
In February 1862, he launched the attack and capture of 2 Confederate strongholds:
Fort Henry on the Tennessee River
Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River
He drove the Confederates out of western Kentucky and Tennessee and boosted northern morale.
However, the Battle of Shiloh (AKA Battle of Pittsburg Landing) broke out on April 6, 1862 in Tennessee and in just 2 days, 25,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded.
The Battle of Shiloh horrified both the North and the South and it damaged Grant’s reputation.
While Shiloh shocked the public, it did not slow down the course of the war.
Few of the major battles of the Civil War took place at sea. However, one notable exception occurred in 1862 when the Union ship Monitor clashed with the Confederate ship Virginia off the Virginia coast.
While Union and Confederate forces continued to square off, the outcomes did not prove decisive for either side.
Union General George McClellan was a skilled leader and loved by his troops, but he was also very cautious. He did not want to execute any plans until he felt his troops were ready.
McClellan’s caution created tension with Lincoln.
Lincoln forced McClellan to act in the spring of 1862 and so he attempts to take Richmond, VA.
In a series of battles known as the Seven Days (June 26-July 2), General Robert E. Lee took advantage of McClellan’s cautious style. McClellan retreated to Washington.
After this Lincoln replaced McClellan, but this change did not prove to help. At the Second Battle of Bull Runin late August 1862, the Confederates, under Stonewall Jackson’s leadership, greatly defeated the Union forces.
Lincoln reinstates McClellan and soon he and Lee will face off in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
Even though Lincoln had decided to take no definite stance on slavery, several events forced him to make a decision:
Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were impatient with Lincoln’s policies and kept up the pressure for an end to slavery.
Slavery was unpopular in Europe and antislavery sentiment was one reason Great Britain was reluctant to aid the Confederacy. Lincoln knew that if the Union took a definite stance against slavery, they could ensure Britain’s support.
As the war dragged on, Lincoln knew this would be the time to end slavery.
Lincoln secretly began working on a plan for the emancipation (freeing) of the slaves living in Confederate states. Lincoln and his cabinet decided the announcement should wait until the Union had a lead in the war or a decisive victory.
In September 1862, General Lee led his troops into Maryland, a border state where many favored the South. Lee hoped to start a pro-Confederate uprising, he thought a victory on Union soil might encourage European recognition of the Confederacy and he also hoped to acquire an abundance of food and supplies for his hungry army.
Things did not go according to Lee’s plans. The people of Maryland were not as enthusiastic about the Confederate Army’s arrival. Also, Lee’s battle plans were found by Union soldiers and so his element of surprise was lost.
The 2 armies met at Sharpsburg, Maryland along Antietam Creek for the Battle of Antietam on September 17.
Union troops attacked Lee’s army in 3 phases, moving from one side of the Confederate line to another.
More than 23,000 soldiers were killed or wounded and Antietam marked the bloodiest single day of the Civil War.
Lee retreated to Virginia and Antietam was a Union victory (even though the Union lost more men).
Antietam was the victory Lincoln needed to go ahead with emancipation of the slaves.
On September 22, 1862, Lincoln formally announced the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved people in states still in rebellion after January 1, 1863.
It did not apply to Border States loyal to the Union or to places that were already under Union military control.
Lincoln hoped the proclamation might encourage some southern states to surrender before the January 1 deadline.
Many abolitionists and some members of Congress criticized Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation claiming it did not extend far enough because it did not totally abolish slavery.
The EP is important because was a turning point in the war:
For northerners, it redefined the war as being “about slavery.”
For white southerners, the call to free the slaves ended any desire for a negotiated end to the war.
For black northerners, it made them eager to join the Union Army and fight against slavery.
Just two months prior, the Union had issued the Militia Act, mandating that black soldiers be accepted into the military.
With the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union moved from allowing blacks in the military to recruiting them.
The all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment was created and by the war’s end more than 180,000 African American volunteers had served in the Union military.
Black soldiers fought with bravery and shattered racist thoughts from white military leaders that they would not be good soldiers.
Still, black troops faced prejudice. They were usually assigned menial tasks, such as cooking, cleaning or digging latrines. They often served the longest guard duties and were placed in exposed battle positions.
Nevertheless, African Americans supported the Union and some 70,000 were killed in battle.
Southern slaves also played an important role in the war. White owners often left their plantations for the safety of southern cities, leaving their trusted slaves to manage the farm. Advancing Union forces often received food, directions, and information from these slaves.
Paying for the war was a major economic challenge. To help meet the cost the Union government:
Raised tariffs (this also helped northern industries because it raised the cost of imported goods)
Sold government bonds (In return for the purchase price, the buyer received a certificate promising to pay the holder a larger amount of money at a future date.)
To increase the amount of cash in circulation and to help people buy war bonds, Congress passed the Legal Tender Act in 1862. This law allowed the Treasury to issue paper money (called “greenbacks” because of the color).
The Civil War helped bring about changes in the use of land in the West. Since the South had seceded, slavery was no longer an issue in these territories. In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, making western land available at very low cost to those who would farm it.
In 1863, the Union instituted conscription, the draft, to meet the unending demand for fresh troops.
Under this system, any white man between the ages of 20 and 45 might be called for required military service. However, a man could pay $300 to hire a replacement. Thus, the burden of conscription fell mostly on recent immigrants (wage workers) and the poor. Many resented this and also worried about losing their jobs to African Americans, who were not subject to the draft.
Another angry group called the “Peace Democrats” or the Copperheads opposed Lincoln’s conduct of the war and demanded an end to the fighting. Most remained peaceful and loyal to the Union.
Lincoln, however, had to deal with the chaos so he suspended the constitutional right of habeas corpus, which protects a person from being held in jail without being formally charged with a specific crime. Lincoln empowered the military to arrest people suspected of disloyalty to the Union and those who participated in draft riots.
The Civil War made great economic demands in the South as well. Unlike the North, the Confederacy lacked the resources to meet these demands. As the war continued, the South seemed in danger of collapse.
The most pressing threat to the Confederacy was the blockade of southern ports by the Union. The Union blockade was about 80% effective and southerners were forced to depend almost entirely on their own farms and factories. This was complicated by nearby military operations.
Most of the South’s wealth was invested in land and slaves. Most of that slave labor was dedicated to producing market crops. Since the war drastically reduced the value of these assets, President Davis was left with few sources of money with which to finance the Confederate military efforts.
Southerners seized every opportunity to ease their economic pains. When possible, Confederate soldiers seized Union weapons, food and supplies—often from bodies on the battlefield.
The Confederacy issued paper money backed by the government’s promise to pay. Many doubted the value of Confederate money. Prices soared as those with items to sell demanded more cash. This inflation, combined with a shortage of food, led to riots in some parts of the South.
These hardships weakened southern unity. Some states refused to send troops outside their borders or allow their troops to serve under the commander of another state.
As in the North, the South enacted a draft, seized private property for the war effort and suspended habeas corpus. In response some called for Davis’ impeachment and in Georgia there was even talk of seceding from the Confederacy!
The life of a soldier:
This was the first time many men had traveled around the U.S.
Most battled homesickness and boredom. When they weren’t preparing for battle, the wrote letters home, played games and attended religious revivals.
Modern technology caused horrible injuries for soldiers. The most frequent treatment was amputation of limbs—sometimes without anesthesia because of the shortage of medicine.
Poor drinking water and lack of sanitation led to the rapid spread of illness in the camps. For every soldier killed, two died of disease.
The worst of all was the prison camps:
POWs faced overcrowding and filth while in captivity
African American prisoners in Confederate camps were usually executed
The most notorious camp was at Andersonville, GA (during its 15 months of operation, more than 12,000 Union prisoners died of disease and malnutrition.
Many families suffered divided loyalties, especially in the Border States. Some fathers and sons or brothers fought on different sides.
Women played important roles in the Civil War:
Many took over family businesses and farms while the men were away fighting
Some African American women served as spies or guides
The most notable military role for women was nursing.