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Civil War - 1861-63 - Early Battles

April 1861 - Fort Sumter

On 15 April 1861, the day after South Carolina military forces had attacked and captured Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring an insurrection against the laws of the United States. Earlier, South Carolina and seven other Southern states had declared their secession from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.

To suppress the rebellion and restore Federal law in the Southern states, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers with ninety-day enlistments to augment the existing U.S. Army of about 15,000. He later accepted an additional 40,000 volunteers with three-year enlistments and increased the strength of the U.S. Army to almost 20,000. Lincoln’s actions caused four more Southern states, including Virginia, to secede and join the Confederacy, and by 1 June the Confederate capital had been moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia.

General in Chief Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott laid out his strategy to subdue the rebellious states. He proposed that an army of 80,000 men be organized and sail down the Mississippi River and capture New Orleans. While the Army “strangled” the Confederacy in the west, the U.S. Navy would blockade Southern ports along the eastern and Gulf coasts. The press ridiculed what they dubbed as Scott’s “Anaconda Plan.”

July 1861 - First Manassas

The Battle of First Manassas was the first battle of the The War of Northern Aggression. This was the first major land battle of the Confederate and Union armies which took place in on Confederate territory in Virginia on July 16, 1861 [there was a second battle on the same terrain in August 1862 - the Yankees called these First and Second Bull Run].

Popular fervor led President Abraham Lincoln to push a cautious Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, Commander of the Union Army in Northern Virginia, to attack the Confederate Army of the Potomac commanded by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, which held a relatively strong position along Bull Run, northeast of Manassas Junction. The Union Army goal was to make quick work of the bulk of the Confederate army, open the way to Richmond, the Confederate capital, and end the war.

The untested Union army under Brig. Gen. McDowell marched from Washington to face the equally inexperienced Confederate army, commanded by Brig. Gen. Beauregard. On July 21st, 1861, McDowell crossed at Sudley Springs Ford and attacked the Confederate left flank on Matthews Hill. Fighting raged throughout the day as Confederate forces were driven back to Henry Hill. The lean gray line collapsed and Southerners fled in disarray toward Henry Hill. Attempting to rally his men, Brig. Gen. Bee used Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s newly arrived brigade as an anchor. Pointing to Jackson, Bee shouted, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”

Generals Johnston and Beauregard then arrived on Henry Hill, where they assisted in rallying shattered brigades and redeploying fresh units that were marching to the point of vulnerability. This is where Thomas J. Jackson earned the nom de guerre “Stonewall.” Late in the afternoon, the Confederate reinforcements extended and broke the Union right flank. By July 22nd, the shattered remnants of the Union army fled to the safety of Washington.

The Battle of First Bull Run highlighted many of the problems and deficiencies that were typical of the first year of the war. Units were committed piecemeal, attacks were frontal, infantry failed to protect exposed artillery, tactical intelligence was nil, and neither commander was able to employ his whole force effectively.

First Bull Run demonstrated that the war would not be won by one grand battle, and both sides began preparing for a long and bloody conflict. In the North, Lincoln called for an additional 500,000 volunteers with three-year enlistments, and the men with ninety-day enlistments were sent home. In the South, once the euphoria of victory had worn off, Jefferson Davis called for 400,000 additional volunteers.

April 1862 - Shiloh

On January 27, 1862 President Lincoln issued a war order authorizing the Union to launch a unified aggressive action against the Confederacy. In March 1862, Major General Henry W. Halleck was put in command of all Federal forces in the Mississippi Valley, and he initiated a slow advance which he sent his two armies along the Tennessee River. By early April Ulysses S. Grant had some 37,000 men near Shiloh Church and Pittsburg Landing, close to the Tennessee-Mississippi border, and off to the east Don Carlos Buell's 25,000 were on their way from Nashville to join him.

Meanwhile, Albert Sidney Johnston was desperately assembling all the Confederate troops he could find. He had more than Grant, but he would have to strike before Buell arrived. Johnston ordered an assault for dawn on Sunday, 06 April 1862.

Unlike most of his counterparts, Union or Confederate, Grant always based his plans on what he could do to the enemy, rather than worrying about what his enemy might do to him. This mindset got Grant into trouble on several occasions, most notably at Shiloh in April 1862, when a Confederate army under General Albert Sidney Johnston surprised Grant’s army in its camps and nearly drove it into the Tennessee River. Unperturbed, Grant rallied his troops, brought up reinforcements, and commented, “Not beaten yet. Not by a damn sight.” Most generals would have retreated after such a mauling.

The next day Grant counterattacked at dawn and drove the Confederates from the field. Johnston was killed in action, and at dark Buell's troops began to arrive and one of Grant's divisions which had been delayed in reaching the field got to the scene. The Army of Mississippi did not receive reinforcements, and many of the Confederate forces had no command and control higher than the company or platoon level.

On the second day the Federals reversed the tide, and by mid afternoon Beauregard had to admit defeat. He drew his badly battered army back toward Corinth, and the Federals, equally battered, made no more than a gesture at pursuit. The greatest battle ever fought on the American continent, up to date, was over. The Federals had lost 13,000 men, the Confederates, 10,000.

The troops had fought with impressive valor, but they had been poorly handled, especially on the Union side. There is no dispute that the Army of the Tennessee under Grant won the Battle of Shiloh. Current doctrine supports Grant’s offensive tactics, although he not did plan properly to exploit his success and thus allowed the Army of Mississippi to escape. The end result of outrunning supply lines is a halt to the battle. With the Confederate army conducting a retrograde with the intent to retire, it meant the Confederates were not defeated.

August 1862 - Second Manassas

The Second Battle of Bull Run was fought on substantially the same ground as the first battle. During July and early August, Lee faced a dilemma equally as perplexing as that which confronted the Yankees. He had no desire to continue operations in the Richmond area, but, as long as McClellan's army remained there posing a threat to the capital, he was powerless to employ his full force in major operations elsewhere. On 27 July 1862, Lee, deciding to gamble on McClellan's continued inactivity, sent A.P. Hill, with 12,000 men, to join Jackson in operations against Pope.

Lee's excellent plan to turn Pope's left on 18 August was never executed. Confederate logistical difficulties and the failure of Stuart's cavalry to cross the Rapidan on schedule precluded Lee's crossing at Somerville Ford until 20 August. By that time, Pope had withdrawn behind the Rappahannock. This wise move resulted from the capture by raiding Union cavalry of a copy of Lee's order for the 18 August operations.

Lee was forced to take bold measures immediately or face eventual defeat by overwhelming forces. It is not likely that Lee conceived his venturous maneuver in disdain for Pope's ability, for the latter had frustrated every Confederate move during the preceding week. Rather, it was probably born of necessity and of Lee's confidence in his own ability to take advantage of any error by Pope.

Lee, bold to the extreme, had outmaneuvered his opponents and won a notable victory. The Union, plagued with divided command problems and Pope's misconceptions at critical times, found its army practically besieged in Washington and the country threatened with invasion. Lee's victory, however, had not been without cost -- he had suffered about 9,500 casualties while inflicting some 14,500 on the Federals. By 01 September 1862, total defeat at the hands of the Confederacy was staring Lincoln right in the eye. Ships and trains were actually being prepared to relocate the seat of national government.

September 1862 - Antietam

Confederate General E.P.Alexander called the battle of Antietam "The bloodiest battle ever fought upon this continent," and John Codman Ropes wrote, "It is likely that more men were killed and wounded on the 17th of September 1862 than on any other single day in the whole war." Asked why the rebel army had not been pursued and "bagged immediately after the battle" of Antietam, Major John J. Key of the Federal Army responded: "That is not the game... The object is that neither army shall get much advantage of the other; that both shall be the field till they are exhausted, when we will make a compromise and save slavery." Learning of this, Lincoln fired Key.

Tactically, Antietam was a drawn battle, but in the larger sense its result was decisively in favor of the Union. After it, Lee retreated from Maryland, while McClellan advanced, into Virginia. This alone was enough to raise the morale of the North, when contrasted with the failures and defeats of the preceding summer. Its favorable issue gave President Lincoln, five days after the battle, the opportunity which he had been awaiting for months to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

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