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Civil War - 1862-65 - Overview

Despite the political gains represented by the Emancipation Proclamation, the North’s military prospects in the East remained bleak as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia continued to maul the Union Army of the Potomac, first at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862 and then at Chancellorsville in May 1863. But Chancellorsville, although one of Lee’s most brilliant military victories, was also one of his most costly. His most valued lieutenant, General “Stonewall” Jackson, was mistakenly shot and killed by his own men.

The spring and early summer of 1863 was the most doubtful period of the war for the Federal cause. The Confederate armies were at their maximum of strength. At Vicksburg they held Grant at bay; in middle Tennessee they defied Rosecrans, and in Virginia they were preparing for an invasion of the Northern states. These were the days of sunshine in which the opposition leaders made hay which they never could garner. Vallandigham, indeed, rushed into the clutches of martial law, was arrested, sentenced, and banished, as has been already related; but the others thundered at their will against the administration. As the national anniversary approached, it seemed as if it were to be a repetition of its gloomy predecessor of 1862. The “Copperheads" —- as the peace-at-any-price party in the North was styled — looked forward to the Fourth of July as the grand harvest-day of the rebellion, and, when it came, their leaders were prepared for its celebration.

But the Confederacy, shut off from the world by the ever-tightening blockade, was by this time badly out at the elbows. In the spring of 1863 there were bread riots; in November flour sold at over a hundred dollars a barrel, and suffering more acute was impending. The painful lack in the Confederacy of all supplies except food and the raw materials for fabrics was a source of wealmess which could not be overcome. Clothes, shoes, medicines, machinery, arms, paper, powder — the thousand appliances of civilized life in peace and the means for making war — came to the South only in blockade-runners from Europe or were captured by her armies from her northern foes. There was grievous dearth of workshops, skilled labor, and scientific accomplishment which could be turned to practical account in such an exigency. Nevertheless, there were men who coped as they could with a situation which ever grew more serious.

By mid-1864, as the time neared for holding party conventions, the Peace Democrats’ [Copperhead] argument that Lincoln and his administration’s prosecution of the war had been a failure was bolstered by a seeming stalemate on the battlefields and by the tremendous number of Union army casualties sustained in bloody fighting during the spring and summer. In the absence of decisive Union victories over the Confederate armies, many Republicans and even Lincoln himself doubted his chances for re-election by a war-weary electorate.< But Lincoln didn’t slow the war effort to appease the Copperheads. He did what he thought was right./p>

None of the Confederate victories was decisive. The Union simply mustered new armies and tried again. Believing that the North’s crushing defeat at Chancellorsville gave him his chance, Lee struck northward into Pennsylvania at the beginning of July 1863, almost reaching the state capital at Harrisburg. A strong Union force intercepted him at Gettysburg, where, in a titanic three-day battle — the largest of the Civil War — the Confederates made a valiant effort to break the Union lines. They failed, and on July 4 Lee’s army, after crippling losses, retreated behind the Potomac.

More than 3,000 Union soldiers and almost 4,000 Confederates died at Gettysburg; wounded and missing totaled more than 20,000 on each side. On November 19, 1863, Lincoln dedicated a new national cemetery there with perhaps the most famous address in U.S. history. He concluded his brief remarks with these words: "... we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

After Gettysburg in 1863, Lee had no men, and at the same time not enough government support to move to the North to Potomac for a third time. The circumstances of this situation reveal the major flaw in Lee's initial strategy and the cumulative loss of the most abundant resources of the Confederacy.

On the Mississippi, Union control had been blocked at Vicksburg, where the Confederates had strongly fortified themselves on bluffs too high for naval attack. In early 1863 Grant began to move below and around Vicksburg, subjecting it to a six-week siege. On July 4, he captured the town, together with the strongest Confederate Army in the West. The river was now entirely in Union hands. The Confederacy was broken in two, and it became almost impossible to bring supplies from Texas and Arkansas.

The Northern victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863 marked the turning point of the war, although the bloodshed continued unabated for more than a year-and-a-half.

The Confederacy's fourth strategy, the offensive-defensive strategy or Joseph E Johnston’s strategy, had the same elements and it was also a variant of the second strategy with a special emphasis on the protection only as defensive. Developed and created for the Atlanta campaigns in 1864 by Joseph E Johnston, this strategy foresaw the deployment of Confederate forces in a strong natural position, reinforced by further protection and further fortification on the ground, and expected the North military forces to attack. If however, the military forces of the North did not attack, but moved and went around the wings, then, Johnston declared that with his military intact, he would hit the enemy if that opportunity were to come and win without losing. This offensive-defensive strategy was formulated to protect and defend all resources under Confederate control in order to create conditions to maintain its armies and to counterattack when chances and supplies permitted. Lincoln brought Grant east and made him commander-in-chief of all Union forces. In May 1864 Grant advanced deep into Virginia and met Lee’s Confederate Army in the three-day Battle of the Wilderness. Losses on both sides were heavy, but unlike other Union commanders, Grant refused to retreat. Instead, he attempted to outflank Lee, stretching the Confederate lines and pounding away with artillery and infantry attacks. “I propose to fight it out along this line if it takes all summer,” the Union commander said at Spotsylvania, during five days of bloody trench warfare that characterized fighting on the eastern front for almost a year.

In the West, Union forces gained control of Tennessee in the fall of 1863 with victories at Chattanooga and nearby Lookout Mountain, opening the way for General William T. Sherman to invade Georgia. Sherman outmaneuvered several smaller Confederate armies, occupied the state capital of Atlanta, then marched to the Atlantic coast, systematically destroying railroads, factories, warehouses, and other facilities in his path. His men, cut off from their normal supply lines, ravaged the countryside for food.

From the coast, Sherman marched northward; by February 1865, he had taken Charleston, South Carolina, where the first shots of the Civil War had been fired. Sherman, more than any other Union general, understood that destroying the will and morale of the South was as important as defeating its armies.

Grant, meanwhile, lay siege to Petersburg, Virginia, for nine months, before Lee, in March 1865, knew that he had to abandon both Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond in an attempt to retreat south. But it was too late. On April 9, 1865, surrounded by huge Union armies, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Although scattered fighting continued elsewhere for several months, the Civil War was over.

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