(CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES – continued)

home | 18-19th centuries index

CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES (10 of 12)

previous | next

Gettysburg, Quantrill's Raids, Hardship and Revivalism

Toward the end of April, 1863, Union armies were on the march again – President Lincoln wanting military successes. In Virginia with a new man in charge, Major General Joseph Hooker, the Union went on an offensive against Robert E Lee's forces, and there at Chancellorsville they fought a four-day battle that ended with another failure for an offensive. The Union forces withdrew, losing 1,606 killed and 9,672 wounded. But in casualties it was the Confederacy's most costly battle. They lost 1,665 killed and 9,081 wounded and 2,018 captured or missing.

The Union was having more success with General Grant, who was advancing southward along the Mississippi River. On May 22, Grant began the siege of Vicksburg. Cut off from supplies, people in Vicksburg were starving, or at least were hungry, and in early July the Confederate general, John Pemberton, surrendered the city and his 30,000 men. Soon thereafter the Union army captured Port Hudson in Louisiana. The Union now dominated the entire Mississippi River, and it had split the Confederacy east of the Mississippi from the state of Arkansas, much of Louisiana and Texas and the supplies that Texas offered.

Confederate leaders were not about to see any handwriting on the wall or to hold back their war effort in preparation for a negotiated settlement. Lee had stopped a Union offensive at Chancellorsville and now he wanted to launch an offensive of his own, to take the war to the enemy – an old military tradition. On June 13, he defeated Union forces at Winchester, and he continued north into Pennsylvania. Union and Confederate forces ran into each other at Gettysburg on the first day of July. Lee had 75,000 men and the Union army had roughly 85,000 and a better defensive position. During the battle, Lee lost 25,000 men and the Union 23,000. It was the bloodiest battle of the war. Lee's offensive warfare was a failure, and he retreated to Virginia. According to commonly accepted military strategy the victorious Union commander, General Meade, was supposed to chase after and destroy the retreating Confederates, but he failed to follow.

Gettysburg was to be described as a turning point in the war. The Union had greater manpower and could replace its fallen, but Lee's army would never fully recover.

The Union had begun its first conscriptions of men into the military in March. All men from ages 20 to 45 had to register, but if one had enough money he could pay someone to take his place. The casualty list for the Battle of Gettysburg was posted in New York City on July 12, the day after the names of the first draftees there were drawn. On July 13 an angry mob burned a draft office. The city was largely Democratic Party in orientation, with extensive hostility toward the Republican president, Lincoln. Poor immigrants from Ireland had been competing with blacks for jobs. Blacks were being used to break a strike on the waterfront, and the protest against the draft transformed into the sacking of ships and the homes of anti-slavery leaders. Blacks were attacked and several were lynched. Rioters controlled the streets, and at least 120 people were killed. Military men sent by General Meade and local police restored order after four days.

Blacks had been fighting in the Civil War since 1862. In October that year, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers repulsed a Confederate attack during the battle of Island Mound in Missouri. Blacks had fought well at the battle of Port Hudson in May 1863, and now, on July 18 1863, at Honey Springs, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), a black regiment, alongside white regiments, fought and defeated the Confederates, 600 of them dying in the battle. On July 18, blacks of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment led an assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Whites had been accustomed to seeing subservience from blacks and had mistakenly supposed that blacks were split between diffidence and wild rage. President Lincoln and other whites had doubted that blacks would make adequate soldiers. Before being subjected to slavery the ancestors of these men had been warriors, and now a few were viewing what these men were outside the context of enslavement, and by August the Union had 14 black regiments in the field.

In September, Union forces were moving southeast through Tennessee on their way to Chattanooga, believing that taking that city would open the door for the Union to advance toward Atlanta and the heartland of the South. A few miles south of Chattanooga, just across the border into Georgia, at Chickamauga, the Confederates drove the Union forces back. In late October a Confederate attack was defeated at the Battle of Wauhatchie near Chattanooga. In late November more defeats of Confederate forces followed. Confederate forces retreated to into Georgia, and the Union army's invasion of the Deep South in 1864 was in the making.

Meanwhile, Missouri had been divided between fervent and moderate Unionists and fervent and moderate Confederates. Anti-slavery guerrilla bands called jayhawkers had been roaming through Kansas and Missouri, attacking perceived enemies, living off of the land, viewed by Confederates as murderers and thieves. On the Confederate side was a former school teacher from Ohio, Captain William Quantrill, leading a company of 150 men on horseback in the service of the Confederate army and also pursuing guerrilla warfare and terror. On March 7, 1862, Quantrill and his men raided the town of Aubrey, four miles into Kansas, killed 3 men and destroyed property. More such raids into Kansas took place in 1862, including an attack on a Santa Fe wagon train – total deaths in these raids, 29 or 30. They had accomplished nothing. But on August 21, 1863, they tried harder. They raided 35 miles into Kansas at the bigger town of Lawrence, where they killed 182 men and boys. Then Union troops arrived to battle Quantrill, and Quantrill all but ended his raiding – another success for the Union.

Three years of war had hardened most of public opinion in both the Union and the Confederacy, each seeing the other side as demonic rather than just wayward, and deserving the hardest punishment. A Confederate shooting of seven Unionist prisoners-of-war occurred in early October 1863 – a retaliation for deaths that had occurred in battle. The Union general in St. Louis retaliated by hanging an equal number of Confederate prisoners-of-war.

The Confederacy was enduring economic hardship. In 1863 it had secured a 14.5 million dollar loan from foolish French investors, but mostly the war was being paid for by inflated paper money. Only five percent was paid for by tax revenues. Confederate government spending and consumer shortages were creating a raging inflation hurtful to common poor. As winter was approaching, the Confederate states east of the Mississippi faced a shortage of food – while Texans were enjoying plenty to eat and luxuries imported from Mexico.

During the winter an evangelical revival swept through the ranks of Confederate soldiers. Among them was the feeling that they were being punished by hardship and that they could put things right if they cleansed themselves of sin. They thought that surely God would not reward the dishonorable and materialistic Yankee aggressors if they, the good Confederates, rededicated themselves to God's purposes.

A few from the South were less interested in a victory against the evil Yankees and were migrating to the West Coast. Among them was Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), 28 in 1863, who went West after having served in the Confederate military for only a few weeks.


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