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Civil War Army

The roots of large unit operations extend back to the American Civil War. Prior to this, American military ventures were adequately controlled by a single army headquarters. Not until the mass mobilization caused by the Civil War was there a need for multiple theaters of war with the accompanying army headquarters.3 But these organizations did not exist at the outset of the war and it was not until later in the war that an efficient command structure was established. Ultimately, however, the Union force structure matured into a field force comprised of five armies under the single command of General Ulysses S. Grant. This became the US Army's first experience in the employment of corps and field army size units.

By the spring of 1862, the Union high command realized that the command structure in the eastern theater was in dire need of reorganization. Lincoln's problems with unity of command became especially clear during Stonewall Jackson's incursion into the Shenandoah Valley in May. At the time the best that Lincoln could do was send strongly worded messages to McDowell and Fremont urging them to move hastily to close the pincers on Jackson. Their movement was slow, linkage faulty, and Jackson slipped away and the Union suffered more losses. Clearly some major reorganization was needed. The different divisions, corps, and armies had to be more effectively coordinated and exercised on this scale and scope; the gaps and opportunities that Lee and Jackson were so adept at exploiting with creative maneuvers had to be eliminated.

On 26 June 1862, Lincoln took the first step. He consolidated the separate corps commands of Banks, Fremont, and McDowell into the Army of Virginia under Pope. Though McClellan remained Commander of the Army of the Potomac during the remainder of the summer of 1862, Major General John Pope was a favorite of the joint committee. Pope supported emancipation, the shooting of civilian snipers, and "as far as practicable" the notion that Northern troops should live off the country. Less than a month later, Lincoln brought both McClellan's Army of the Potomac and Pope's Army of Virginia under another commander, General Halleck, whom he named General-in-Chief. Lincoln's reasons for making these command changes were: The problem of unity of command had been plaguing the President for some time and had been growing worse as the scale and scope of the conflict grew. The old department system under which the Army had reasonably functioned in peacetime or for limited actions was proving unsuitable for managing a war consuming half a continent.

Part of the problem with unity of command stemmed from the fact that after General-in-Chief Winfield Scott retired to West Point the previous fall, the tasks affiliated with that position had fallen to McClellan who was more than fully occupied and challenged with his other duties as the commander of the Army of the Potomac. Thus, when the Army of the Potomac began its movements to the Peninsula, Lincoln relieved him of his General in Chief position to allow McClellan to concentrate on Army of the Potomac operations (more likely, it was to relieve Lincoln of the constant problems created from the argumentative and stubborn McClellan). Lincoln himself, took on the responsibilities, along with Secretary of War Stanton, of General in Chief. Predictably, direct civilian control of the overall war effort was just as problematic. Running the country and coordinating a consolidated effort by all the Union forces was simply too much for a civilian commander in chief. The lack of a military coordinator was a detriment to the Union war effort.

Even with the installation of Halleck as the General in Chief of the Army, throughout the summer of 1862, a dysfunctional rivalry persisted between McClellan and Pope. To Lincoln's great disappointment, Halleck did little to intervene and stop the unseemly lapses in professionalism between the two men. As a result, the Armies of the Potomac and Virginia suffered from the distrust and antagonism festering between their leaders at the top. Because of McClellan's unwillingness to provide timely reinforcement to Pope, Lee had a chance to divide his force and reunite them at the critical moment, thus soundly defeating the Army of Virginia at Second Bull Run.

The woeful outcome of Pope's boasts made them all the more ridiculous. The Army of Virginia lasted only about two months, long enough, however, to be demolished at the second battle of Bull Run. Pope afterward complained that the remnants of his army had been so scattered by McClellan that he (Pope) could not tell what had become of them. The Army of Virginia had vanished forever, and never again appeared in the list of Union armies. The fragments of it which escaped, together with the portions of the Army of the Potomac that had been sent to re-enforce it, found their way back to Washington September 2d. Again the Army of the Potomac was in the trenches about Washington, confronted by the army of Lee ; the cabinet was in a panic ; the North was in dread of invasion ; Halleck was helpless ; and Lincoln, in utter despair, was obliged to appeal to McClellan to save the national capital.

Two of the great contending armies on each side reinforced each other or in some way cooperated at critical periods - the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, the Federal Army of the Potomac and the Federal Army of the Tennessee. The Federal Army of the Potomac was built up from a nucleus composed of troops summoned to the defense of Washington and the vital Potomac line in 1861. In the same way the force which opposed it for nearly four years sprung from a nucleus (originally Virginia state units) which defended Northern Virginia, that is the region bordering on the Potomac, in the first year of the war.

The Federal Army of the Tennessee, whose operations ultimately linked up strategically with those of the Army of the Potomac, was created in the Shiloh campaign, Spring of 1862, to defend the Tennessee River region. Its antagonist of three years of combat, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, first took form and name in the fall of 1862 when all Southern troops in Tennessee-men of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi-were fused in one mass to wrest the mountain state from Federal control. Thus each of these pairs of armies had objectives which in the main were identical; objectives, too, that suggested a name for each and kept them afield for three years more or less with the result that Civil War history turns largely upon their battle fortunes.

In the final stage of the conflict the Federal Army o the Tennessee, with its companion armies of the West, all under Sherman, encircled the South to support the Federal Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Also the Confederate Army of Tennessee, reenforced by fragments of other armies out of the West, confronted its old foe under Sherman in the Carolinas, in order to biiccor the Army of Northern Virginia from the pincers about to close on it around Richmond. Lee's army had then ceased to be the Army of Northern Virginia in the original and literal sense for the war front in the East had moved from the Potomac to the James, well to the south of the geographical centre of the state.

The evolution of army names in the Civil War is illustrated by the titles given to the Federal Army of the Ohio. Originally based on the Ohio it took its name from that river. Subsequent operations left the Ohio River far in the rear and the new fighting zone for that force was Tennessee, in the region of the Cumberland range and Cumberland River. On October 8, 1862, the Army of the Ohio fought its last battle at Perry ville, Ky., and on December 3151 the same troops baptized at Stone's River, Tenn., their new name, Army of the Cumberland. Later appeared the Army of Ohio an entirely distinct force organized in the Department of Ohio.

The Virginians first used the title, Army of the Potomac, giving it to a small force which opened the battle of Bull Run and later united with troops from the Shenandoah Valley to form the Army of Northern Virginia and help make a name that in itself proved to be invincible under varying fortunes. The captivating title, Army of the Shenandoah, was borne by two different Federal armies at different stages of the warfare along that famous river, and also by a Confederate force early in the war. The Mississippi gave its name to two Federal armies and to one Confederate force.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:34:11 ZULU