(CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES – continued)

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CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES (11 of 12)

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Sherman's March and Confederate Desertions

Lincoln made Ulysses S Grant general-in-chief over all Union armies, believing that he had found a real general and a man of determination and willingness to fight. And for 1864 concerted offensives were planned for what was hoped would be a final drive to victory.

In early May 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman of Ohio and an army of 98,000 began their march from Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia. Also in early May, Grant and an army of 100,000 went southward into Virginia, back across ground covered the previous year. And on May 5 and 6, fifty miles from Richmond, they fought a bloody battle in woods and undergrowth (the Battle of the Wilderness) in which 17,666 were killed, wounded or missing, the trees and undergrowth catching fire and the wounded burning to death. Lee's army of 64,000 suffered around 12,000 casualties. Grant withdrew, but he turned his army southward on the attack. On May 8, the two armies met again, forty miles from Richmond, and they fought for four days. The Union suffered another 18,400 casualties and the Confederates another 12,000.

On May 9, a cavalry force of over 10,000 troopers with 32 artillery pieces rode to the southeast to move behind Lee's army, intending to disrupt Lee's supply lines by destroying railroad tracks and supplies, to distract General Lee by threatening Richmond, and to go after the legendary Confederate cavalry general, JEB Stuart. On May 11, thirty miles to the south, and ten miles from Richmond. The two sides met at Yellow Tavern. For the Confederates it wasn't the kind of defensive line warfare that won for them at Fredricksburg in December 1862. The Union forces drove the 4,500 Confederates from the field, the casualties on both sides around 800, and JEB Stuart was shot and died on the 12th.

On May 15, in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia, another of Grant's armies launched a campaign of deliberate destruction to deprive the Confederates of supplies. There the advance of the Union force was stopped and Confederates supply lines were maintained.

Fighting was becoming an everyday business for Grant's men, without the break to peaceful camp life of the previous three years. Grant's army moved around Richmond, on its eastern side, driving toward Petersburg, a communications and railway center, twenty-two miles south of Richmond. At Cold Harbor, about ten miles northeast of Richmond, he clashed with Lee, who was short of men but dug in at a concave position. Grant sent his men against it, and with the superiority of the defense, and what is said to have been the greatest firepower that an assaulting force had ever faced, Lee's troops obliterated the assault. In the murderous crossfire, Grant was said to have lost over 7,000 men in just eight minutes. A recent estimate holds it at around 3,500. note53  Lee lost less than 1,500 men. Grant was dismayed by his losses. His subordinate generals thought maybe now he had learned his lesson. A reluctance to go to slaughter was developing among his troops. Some of them were suffering from shell shock. And days later some newspapers responded to the Battle of Cold Harbor with the phrase "butcher Grant."

For a few days at Cold Harbor both armies from fortified positions sniped at each other and exchanged artillery bombardments. Confederate forces were not numerous enough to prevent Union forces from closing in on the communications and railway center at Petersburg. But rather than take the city, on June 20 a siege began, to last through the rest of the year.

In July, Confederate troops led by General Jubal Early moved against Washington DC, trying to relieve the pressure on Lee's army. It got within five miles of the capital, but the city was well defended by seasoned troops who drove the Confederates back into Virginia.

Sherman and his army, meanwhile, were marching and fighting their way toward Atlanta. The city was a circle about four miles across, a city of around 9,000. Atlanta was the munitions producing center of the Confederacy and had been supplying the Confederacy with railway cars, cannons, tents, revolvers, saddles, canteens, belt buckles spurs and buttons. With refugees arriving ahead of Sherman the town's number had increased to around 70,000. With news of Sherman's advance some began leaving. In late July, Sherman reached the city's periphery, and there a prolonged battle began.

In August the Union won the greatest naval contest of the war, at Mobile Bay, Alabama. The admiral of a fleet of seven wooden ships, David Farragut, cried "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead," referring to anchored mines across the channel leading to Mobile. There, his sailors and marines, supported by naval bombardment, captured Fort Morgan on August 23, making Union control over the Gulf Coast complete.

In the North preparations were being made for the presidential campaign that year. Northern Democrats favored an immediate end to the war. The president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, a Democrat before secession, refused to help the northern Democrats by agreeing to a negotiated end to the war. He still believed in victory, saying on August 20 that he was open to proposals for peace but "on the basis of our independence" – in a word, succession. Lincoln's former general, McClellan, accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president but rejected the party's peace plank. Lincoln's popularity was suffering, and he was being described as a boorish country bumpkin, a third-rate backwoods lawyer and as not knowing how to end the war. McClellan was looked to by many as their hope for saving the country.

Then, after a little more than a month of maneuvering and fighting around Atlanta, Sherman captured the city, depressing Confederates and lifting the spirits of the war-weary in the Union. Public awareness was moved by the sensational, and among Unionists was a new confidence that they would win the war, and Lincoln's prospects of winning the election were much improved.

Sherman rested his men and accumulated supplies. He ordered civilians to remove themselves from the city and, on October 16, he set fire to Atlanta. In response to personal pleadings he left 400 structures intact, including five churches. The following day he began a march to the southeast, toward the city of Savannah, by the sea, with an army of 62,000 and 2,500 mules, leaving two army corps behind to chase after his opponent, John Bell Hood, who had returned to fight in Tennessee. Sherman was cutting himself from communications with Washington, cutting his supply line from Union territory and planning to live off the land.

On November 8, Lincoln won re-election, 2.2 million votes to 1.8 million for McClellan, which translated into 212 electoral votes for Lincoln and 21 for McClellan.

Sherman was destroying everything in a varying width that reached 60 miles wide – factories, bridges, railroads, public buildings, cotton gins, mills, stores of provisions, standing crops and cattle. He fed his troops well. He believed that war was horror and he wanted to convince Confederates sooner rather than later that they should give up their fight. Following his army were desperados, including some lost Confederates who had given up on the war, taking advantage of an opportunity to loot.

On December 15 and 16, the South's General Hood was defeated decisively outside Nashville. On December 22, Sherman took Savannah, a city he described as having "some twenty thousand people." Sherman brought joy to Unionists and he was hailed in Unionist newspapers. Sherman was holding the city and surrounding territory as a military post, but he treated the city with lenience. He kept Savannah's elected officials in office, and in his directive to his troops he wrote:

Where there is no conflict, every encouragement should be given to well-disposed and peaceful inhabitants to resume their usual pursuits. Families should be disturbed as little as possible in their residences, and tradesman allowed the free use of their shops, tools, etc.; churches, schools, and all places of amusement and recreation, should be encouraged, and streets and roads made perfectly safe to persons in their pursuits.

In January, transportation problems and successful blockades were creating severe shortages of food and supplies in the Confederacy. Starving soldiers were deserting Lee's forces. Jefferson Davis approved the arming of slaves as a means of augmenting the Confederacy's shrinking army, but the measure was not put into effect. As many leaders do when facing military defeat, Davis was becoming delusional. He believed that however overwhelmed militarily, the Confederacy could live on as long as its people refused to submit.


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