(CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES – continued)

home | 18-19th centuries index

CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES (9 of 12)

previous | next

The Second Year of War and the Emancipation Proclamation

The Union had been constructing river gunships with plans to dominate the Mississippi and other major rivers. By way of the Cumberland River, Nashville was attacked, and it fell on February 25.

Major General Grant's Union forces advanced along the Tennessee River south, through Kentucky and into Tennessee, and on April 6, the Confederates struck back in a surprise attack against Union forces at Shiloh, Tennessee. In a major battle there roughly 13,000 Union soldiers died out of a force of 63,000, and of the 40,000 Confederates troops 11,000 died. The extent of the casualties was a shock to everybody.

Since early February, a combined army and navy Union force was scoring victories along the Atlantic seacoast. They defeated Confederates at Roanoke Island on the coast of North Carolina. Within a few weeks they took several more ports, giving the Union bases for attempts to extend control inland. The Confederacy had been rushing to build naval vessels to defend its rivers and harbors. It had converted a scuttled Union frigate, the USS Merrimac, into an iron-sided vessel, renamed the CSS Virginia. On March 8, the Virginia sank two wooden Union warships off the town of Norfolk, Virginia. The following day as the Virginia was attacking Union ships, a small Union ironclad ship, the USS Monitor, emerged and gave battle – the first battle between iron-clad ships – with no decisive results.

USS Monitor

USS Monitor USS Monitor, enlarged

The Union navy was trying to blockade the Confederacy's coastline, but at night there were Southerners passing through and making money smuggling goods that the Union wished to keep out of the South.

The Union navy sailed a fleet of 24 ships upriver toward New Orleans, successfully enduring fire from two forts. From New Orleans eight makeshift gunboats were sent against them, and the Union fleet sank six of them. The Union took control of New Orleans, vital to the South's export of cotton and other goods.

For trade, Texans were looking to Mexico, while in the West the war wasn't going well for the South. Fighting in New Mexico in April resulted in Confederates retreating to Texas by May, leaving the far west and the Pacific coast in the hands of the Union.

The Confederacy had begun conscription, and President Lincoln was hoping for a knockout blow in Virginia, but he was headed for disappointment. The Confederates had some success. In May, they stopped Lincoln's army in Virginia at Williamsburg. Confederates pushed Lincoln's forces out of the Shenandoah Valley and across the Potomac River, putting Washington in jeopardy. On May 31, the Confederates attacked and almost defeated Union forces at Seven Pines, near Richmond, Virginia. Between June 26 and July 2, battles were fought at Mechanicsville, Gaines's Mill, Savage's Station, Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill, which ended with the Confederates withdrawing to Richmond, but there was no knockout blow for Lincoln.

The Union army was benefitting from the North's manufacturing. It was better equipped, with rifled muskets and cannon playing a major role in the battle, and the North had a better supply of ammunition. The rifled muskets had a range (distance) advantage. But generals were slow of mind in sending men shoulder to shoulder against an advanced fire power. Spacing advancing men in combat was into the future.

The Union fought the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 29-30. On September 15, Harper's Ferry, Virginia, fell to the Confederates. And a clash of armies occurred on September 17 in Maryland – the Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg. It was the first major Civil War battle to take place on northern soil and the bloodiest single day of the war. Union troops at Antietam outnumbered the Confederates around two to one, but the Union commander, General McClellan, failed to take good advantage of it. The Union suffered 2,108 killed, 9,540 wounded and 753 captured or missing; the Confederates suffered 1,546 killed, 7,752 wounded and 1,018 captured or missing. Because he was slow-moving, General McClellan failed to achieve a knockout blow for the Union, but his force drove the Confederates, under General Robert E Lee, southward.

The British and French viewed the Battle of Antietam as a victory for the Union and put on hold their plans to recognize the Confederacy. Lincoln, meanwhile, had been under pressure from Northerners who wanted to take a harder line against the Confederacy and turn the war into an abolitionist crusade. In the preceding months he had been reluctant, but, with the success at Antietam, Lincoln changed his mind. On September 22, he announced his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, to be effective on January 1, 1863. All slaves in states rebelling against the United States were to be declared free – but not slaves in the border states still in the Union: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. Lincoln resisted the purists who wanted all slavery abolished, not wishing to drive any of these four states into joining the Confederacy.

Lincoln had good reason to limit his emancipation to those in belligerent secessionist states. As president he could issue his proclamation only as an act of war. It was up to Congress to free the slaves elsewhere in the US and the Supreme Court to approve it. The Supreme court was still headed by Chief Justice Roger B Taney. He had spoken of opposition to slavery as "Northern aggression." Like all presidents, Lincoln had to consider what his powers were and were not. 

For the Union, the year ended with more failures in Virginia. By now, George Halleck, who had commanded operations in the West, was appointed overall commander of the Union forces. In November, Lincoln replaced George McClellan as commander of his army in Virginia – the Army of the Potomac.

In December, a Union offensive at Fredericksburg met the new power of defensive warfare: artillery and riflemen behind a barrier against men moving forward across an open field. A barrier in this instance was a stone wall. The battle lasted four days. Waves of Union soldiers were butchered, and the attacking Union army of 114,000 against 72,500 Confederates was forced to withdraw after losing 1,284 killed and something like 9,600 wounded. The Confederates lost less than half that number.


Copyright © 2003-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.