A Political War vs a Moral War
At the start of the Civil war this was a war to preserve the Union. It was not at the outset a war to end slavery that wouldn’t happen until 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation which we will talk more about.
There were many battles during the civil war. It would be impossible to discuss all of them. Battles were fought in the southeast, in the deep south like Vicksburg and in the west in battles like Shiloh.
Civil War Battles typically had 1 name in the North and another name in the South. The first major battle was the first Battle of Bull Run or Manassas as it was known in the Confederacy. It was at this battle that Confederate General Thomas Jackson earns the nickname Stonewall Jackson. It was a victory for the confederates. Stonewall Jackson would later die in the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 after being struck by friendly fire.
The Union finally started to gain some ground after the second Battle of Bull run and at the Battle of Antietam which became the bloodiest day of the civil war up to that point. Union Gen. McClellan had Lee’s battle plan which was found wrapped in 3 cigars on a nearby field. His unwillingness to go after Lee and to move more quickly angered Lincoln (which was not easy to do, by all accounts he was a man who had an abundance of patience) Lincoln removed him from command. Lincoln lacked a military general who had the necessary get up and go until General Ulysses S. Grant, who was put in charge of Union forces in 1864. Lincoln’s request for volunteers provided a steady supply of volunteers for the union, but as casualties continued to climb, conscription or a draft, became necessary. The 1863 act required men between the ages of 20-45 to serve in the military. There were some loopholes one could use to avoid service. Men with wealth could avoid the draft by purchasing exemptions for $300 or by getting a substitute to fight in their place. These policies are why the civil war is often referred to as a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.
The tide of the war changed with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He needed a solid Union Victory before issuing it. Antietam provided that for him. The Emancipation proclamation was issued in Sept. of 1862. The act gave southern confederate states in rebellion 100 days to rejoin the union. If they didn’t, as of January 1, 1863, their slaves would be freed. Now, from the southern perspective, it was an outrageous claim and had no legal bearing. BUT AS the Union army liberated areas from Confederate control, more and more people would be freed. The Proclamation didn’t free enslaved people in the territories or border states. Only states in open rebellion. If Confederate states did not return to the Union as of January 1, 1863, the enslaved people of those states would be freed. The war was now a moral one in addition to a political war. The Union would be preserved and slavery would be abolished. This did a number of things. One that is often not discussed enough, it made it impossible for Britain to recognize the confederacy once the proclamation was issued.
The emancipation Proclamation also allowed for black men to serve in the military. At the outset of the war men of color were banned by law from serving in the military. In 1863, black men enlisted in the military and up until 1864 were paid less than white soldiers. Black men served in what was called US Colored Troops or USCT for short. They served in segregated units which were commanded by white officers. In addition to at first being paid less, they faced discrimination and far more severe punishments if they were captured by Confederate forces. While at first hesitant to allow freedmen and runaway slaves or contraband as they were called at the time to serve for fear that it would anger the border states, the need for men to fight made it necessary. Many black troops fought with distinction and many received the medal of honor.
Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect, the union took additional steps to rid the country of slavery. The Union outlawed slavery in the territories in 1862 (Reversed the Dred Scott Decision) Slavery was also outlawed in Washington DC and owners were paid $300 for each slave. It is important for me to mention that When Gen Grant and his family went to go and fight, his wife bought slaves with her. We will talk more about this in our upcoming podcast on Ulysses S. Grant and his Presidency.
Civil War 1st modern war, casualties and medicine
The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the civil war. It is also maybe the most famous of all Civil War Battles. Emboldened by victories in both Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, General Lee decided to invade the North. Over the course of 3 days in July of 1863, there were over 50,000 combined casualties. It became the bloodiest day of the war and kept that title for the remainder of the war. The battle was a turning point. Coupled with Gen. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, the South was dealt a fatal blow. The battle of Gettysburg was made famous by the Gettysburg Address in Nov. of 1863 by President Lincoln at the dedication of the National cemetery at Gettysburg. His brief speech became one of the most important speeches in American history.
The Civil War saw over 600,000 casualties. The Majority of the deaths were caused by disease than actual battle wounds. Medical knowledge is still a work in progress at this time in history. Bloodletting was still a common practice. The knowledge of the necessity of having sanitary conditions still isn’t there. Lack of a proper diet, unsanitary conditions, unclean drinking water, medical tools used for treatment were not sterilized. All of this created a perfect storm for the rise of diseases throughout the camps. Diseases like Typhoid, Dysentery, scarlet fever, measles all contributed significantly to the death toll.
The National Civil War Museum of Medicine has a wide variety of resources and primary source documents. Some of my favorite, are letters from Clara Barton requesting the creation of a Missing soldiers’ office or her testimony on the conditions of Andersonville Prison.
Clara Barton is often referred to as the angel of the battlefield. There was no hospital system in the United States. Nursing was not considered women’s work. Clara Barton started gathering supplies, she offered to help, but the US army turned her down. Undeterred, she followed the army to Antietam and after the battle she starts treating the wounded in a nearby barn. She continues to do this throughout the war. After the Civil War ended, Clara Barton continued her work for the brave men who fought in the Civil War. The Missing soldiers’ office was housed in the boarding house she lived in in Washington DC after the war ended. Knowing how she tended to the sick and wounded, families desperate to learn of the fate of their son or in some cases, sons, sent her letters. She received and read thousands, these letters led her on a quest to find out the fate and burial places of thousands of soldiers. Today, the office which was found by sheer luck before the building was demolished is today a museum. Their website also has links to wonderful resources. After visiting the most notorious Confederate Military Prison, Andersonville, she worked to have the mass graves of Union soldiers properly identified and marked. She of course goes on to help establish The American Red Cross and served as its first President.
Like Clara Barton, many women throughout the North volunteered to help the war effort. Whether it was knitting socks for soldiers, doing laundry or mending uniforms, collecting necessary medical supplies or money for the war effort, cooking for the soldiers at camp or the thousands who volunteered to nurse the sick and wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Dorothea Dix, who championed improvements for the treatment of individuals with mental illness was a nurse during the civil war, as was famous author Luisa May Alcott. So many women simply wanted to help the men who like their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons had gone off to war. Some women even went as far to disguise themselves as men and fought in the war! Off of the battlefields, many women had to tend to their farms and did work that was typically “man’s work” Women of color also volunteered in the USCT. One of whom was Harriet Tubman.
The Civil War is often referred to as the first modern war. There were many advances in weaponry by the time the civil war broke out. New, more accurate rifles replaced muskets, iron clad warships were used to blockade the confederacy and the torpedoes used by the confederacy to try to rid themselves of the union blockade. Yet, while these technological advances have taken place, the ways in which battles were fought had stayed the same. Men are still wearing colored uniforms, flag bearers, drummers drumming, pipers pipping and marching towards the opposing army in an open field. Some battles saw more than 20,000 soldiers killed in battle and thousands more wounded.
A quick internet search of civil war medical supplies would turn the strongest of stomachs. Images of the saws used to amputate limbs that had been practically shredded by those new and advanced weapons, a quick shot of whiskey, some morphine if you’re lucky, you would be held down and they would start sawing. Mind you, it most likely was still dirty from the last limb that was cut off.
Towards the end of the war we see some conditions improve. They begin to implement a triage system that is still used today on the battlefield.
It was also a modern war in terms of people being able to know about it as the war was unfolding. Unlike in previous wars which had to wait for letters to arrive either on horseback or ship, with inventions like the telegraph, Morse code and railroad lines, people throughout the country learned of the news of the battles in newspapers. Photography, while still very much in its infancy, allowed for the documentation of the war. Images of soldiers, camps, even Lincoln’s visits to meet with the troops or a general, and of course the images of the battle field which showed the horrors of war all aided in keeping Americans informed. It also created an additional headache for the government because it heavily influenced public opinion of the war. In fact, many of those glass plates with images of civil war soldiers and the aftermaths of battles ended up being sold after the war and used to build greenhouses. Over time the sun fading the images of war torn men and women.
The Civil War continued to rage on through 1864 and 1865. General William Tecumseh Sherman, famous for his campaign to capture Atlanta and his March to the Sea. General Sherman inflicted such devastation to Georgia and captured the city, he went on to capture the Carolinas and set out to meet up with Grant’s army in VA. In early April, the union army had captured Richmond, the confederate capitol and President Jefferson Davis fled the city. He was eventually captured in May
The end of the civil war is typically marked at being April 9, 1865. The day that General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House Va. Union soldiers went in search of a suitable place for the meeting and a man offered his parlor in his home. In His autobiography penned just before his death, Ulysses S. Grant wrote the following
“What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us...”
President Abraham Lincoln who sought reconciliation between the North and South had no plans to punish the south. What may have happened after the civil war had he not been assassinated will never be known. The country was now in the hands of Andrew Johnson, a southern democrat who had remained loyal to the Union during the civil war. A man who wouldn’t be trusted by either the Radical Republicans who controlled the Legislative Branch and by former confederates who saw him as a traitor to the south. A man who was chosen to be on the ticket as an olive branch to the south. A sign that Abraham Lincoln wished to work with the south. Lincoln was gone and so to was his plan for Reconstruction
Fate of Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee’s home in Arlington, VA which was the family home of his wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, the great granddaughter of Martha Washington and step Great Granddaughter of George Washington, was occupied by Union soldiers throughout the duration of The Civil War. Its location and vast grounds made it an easy choice for a national cemetery. The property had been seized by the federal government during the War due to the inability of Mary Anna Lee’s inability to pay a property tax in person. In Jan. of 1864, the Federal Government purchased Arlington House. In 1882, the Supreme Court ruled that the property had been illegally confiscated and paid restitution to the family. After the war, He served as the President of Washington College in Lexington Va. Lee had the name recognition to bring in sizable donations into the university. He also helped to expand is course offerings. Robert E. Lee remained in Virginia until his death. After his death in 1870, the College was renamed Washington and Lee College. Robert E. Lee remains one of the most polarizing figures in American history. His military career overshadowed by his choice to side with the Confederacy. As per President Johnson’s mandate that former Confederate officials had to formally request a pardon, Lee submitted his Amnesty Oath, but it went missing for 150 years. He didn’t have his citizenship restored nor was he pardoned like many other former confederate officials. It was posthumously restored in 1975, over 100 years after his death.
Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens
Confederate VP Alexander Stephens was also arrested and charged with treason. He was pardoned by Andrew Johnson and was elected to represent GA in the House of Representatives and was Gov of Ga up until his death.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was Captured in Georgia in May of 1865, he was charged with treason and spent two years in prison. His trial for treason was postponed due to President Johnson’s impeachment. Davis wanted a trial, the federal government was fearful of such a trial, what if a jury failed to convict? It would legitimize secession. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson pardoned all former Confederate officials and a trial was no longer needed. Davis’ Citizenship was another story. That had to be personally requested and one had to sign an amnesty oath. Jefferson Davis refused. He even went as far as saying that if he had to do all over again, he would have done the same thing all over again. Unlike, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis never sought reconciliation or forgiveness. He died in 1889. In 1978, his citizenship was posthumously restored, President Jimmy Carter called it the final Act of Reconciliation of the war. After her husband’s death, Varina Davis moved to the North. A chance meeting with Mrs. Grant would lead to an unlikely and long lasting friendship. The two often spent summers together and were even pictured praying together at Grant’s tomb in NYC. They remained friends until Julia Grant’s death.
The Civil War was over. Like Humpty Dumpty, the country lay in pieces. How do you put it back together? Could it ever be whole? Who should be punished? How should they be punished? What do we do with millions of newly freed men, women and children? Where will they live? How will they support themselves? Forced to be uneducated for generations. Should they vote? How will former confederate states enter the union? How do we ensure this never happens again? The United States had to be rebuilt, Politically, Socially and Economically. How do you heal the wounds that tore this country apart? Over 600,000 men had died. Where do you begin and at what point do you say we have completed the task we set out to do? After all, when you say you have done enough, it eludes to the fact that there is yet more to be done but enough has been done to get by. So as we turn the page to Reconstruction, keep in mind all that had to be done. Think about all that led up to it and where we all are now. Consider what happens when you just do enough…