Antietam: 152 Years Later

The Battle of AntietamThis is a post that I wrote two years ago on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. It bears repeating to inform people about the horrific price that America paid during the American Civil War. Let us all fervently pray that we will never be asked to pay that steep a price again. But if we are asked to defend our rights let us hope that we can show the same type of courage and bravery that our forebears did.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, also known as Sharpsburg. Whatever you call it, this battle marked the first great turning point in the American Civil War in the East.

Historians argue endlessly about turning points in the Civil War but about Antietam there is very little argument. Everything after the battle was changed by its impact on Union policy. Let’s start with the smaller changes that came from the battle and move up to the one great change that turned the fortunes of war in favor of the North.

Antietam marked the last battle of Maj. Gen. George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. His inability to pursue the shattered Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and allow it to return to the safety of Virginia was simply too much for Abraham Lincoln to bear.

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote in his official report, “The long inactivity of so large an army in the face of a defeated foe, and during the most favorable season for rapid movements and a vigorous campaign, was a matter of great disappointment and regret.” Lincoln relieved McClellan of his command of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, effectively ending the general’s military career.

Following McClellan at the helm of the Army of the Potomac was Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside who had turned the President down before McClellan’s reinstatement. He claimed that he was not qualified to command the army. At Fredericksburg in December, Burnside proved that his own opinion of himself was correct.

He was followed by Maj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker was thoroughly whipped by Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville and was relieved of command three days before the momentous Battle of Gettysburg. He in turn was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade who retained command for the rest of the war.

Antietam was to begin the process that eventually brought General Ulysses S. Grant to the position of general-in-chief of all the Union armies. His military genius was to change the face of war and bring victory to the forces of the Union.

Antietam was the battle that brought that face of war to the general public of the North. Mathew Brady, the well-known New York photographer, Alexander Gardner at Antietamhad dispatched Alexander Gardner to the battle field to take photographs of the aftermath of the battle.

In October 1862, the results of Gardner’s battlefield images were exhibited in Brady’s New York gallery titled “The Dead of Antietam.” Many images in this presentation were graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This was the first time that many Americans saw the realities of war in photographs as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions”.

The images of the wholesale slaughter on the battlefield of Antietam brought the war home to northern civilians in a way that casualty lists and battlefield sketches could not. The images of piles of dead soldiers in the Cornfield and the Sunken Road were so graphic that many people were shocked into understanding the death and destruction that this war was causing.

Both armies was severely wounded after the battle. With over 23,000 casualties inflicted, both armies took several months to recover. Some historians say that the Confederate army never recovered from the wholesale bloodletting at Antietam. But recover they did and defeated the Union Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville due to the superior generalship of their commander, Robert E. Lee.

The most important result of the Battle of Antietam was Lincoln’s issuing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22nd, the President issued the proclamation that would change the Union war aims and his country forever.

Earlier that summer Lincoln had said, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the Dead Confederates at the Sunken Roadslaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” 

The Emancipation Proclamation when it came into effect on January 1, 1863 would forever change the war from one that only sought to preserve the Union but one that would set men free. Lincoln’s ringing phrase, “…thenceforward, and forever free” would change the United States of America for all time.

As a direct result of the proclamation 180,000 African-Americans would enlist in the Union army and assist in the ultimate victory over the Confederate states. Their value to the Union cause cannot be understated.

So, today is not only a turning point in the American Civil War but also a turning point in the history of the United States.

I have the honor of being the great-great grandson of Michael Patrick Murphy, Sergeant, Company D, 61st New York Volunteer Infantry, Caldwell’s Brigade, Richardson’s Division. On September 17th, 1862 he fought at the Sunken Road, forever known afterward as ‘Bloody Lane’. Everytime that I look in a mirror his blue eyes are looking back at me, just like my grandmother told me they would when I was a child. We, his descendants, have a fierce pride that one of our ancestors helped to save the Union.


John Brown Gordon: From the Battlefield to the State House

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Confederate Generals Officers

General John Brown GordonIf the Union had Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine, then the Confederacy’s version was John Brown Gordon of Georgia. These two famous generals followed parallel paths and in the post-war period actually became acquainted. In the end both would help to foster the reconciliation of the two sides.

John Brown Gordon was born on his father’s plantation in Upson County, Georgia in February of 1832. An outstanding student at the University of Georgia, he left before graduating to read law at an Atlanta law firm. He passed the bar examination and began to practice law. Gordon was a many of many parts and he invested in a number of coal mines in Tennessee and Georgia with his father.

Gordon’s Civil War Service: 1861-1863

At the start of the war, Gordon who lacked any military education or experience was elected captain of a company of mountaineers. He quickly rose to brigadier general in November 1862 and then to major general in May 1864. Gordon was an aggressive general as a brigade commander and then a division commander. He was highly valued by Robert E. Lee who described him as being one of his best brigadiers, “characterized by splendid audacity” in a letter to President Jefferson Davis.

Gordon was wounded eight times in the service of the Confederacy including an incredible five times in the Sunken Road at Antietam. He was wounded at Malvern Hill in the eyes while fearlessly leading his brigade. During the campaign, Gordon strode fearlessly among his men, enemy bullets shattered the handle of his pistol, pierced his canteen, and tore away part of the front of his coat.

At Antietam, he commanded the troops that held the Sunken Road in the center of the Confederate line. It was during this battle that Gordon was wounded an incredible five times. First, a Minié ball passed through his calf. Then, a second ball hit him higher in the same leg. A third ball went through his left arm.

He continued to lead his men despite the fact that the muscles and tendons in his arm were mangled, and a small artery was severed by this ball. A fourth ball hit him in his shoulder. Despite pleas that he go to the rear, he continued to lead his men. He was finally stopped by a ball that hit him in the face, passing through his left cheek and out his jaw. He fell with his face in his cap and might have drowned in his own blood if it had not drained out through a bullet hole in the cap.

After months of recuperation, Gordon led a brigade of Georgians in Jubal Early’s division at Gettysburg. During the assault on Barlow’s Knoll, he stopped to aid the wounded enemy division commander, Francis Barlow.

This incident led to a story considered apocryphal by many historians that the two men met after the war in Washington and Gordon asked if he was related to the Barlow who was killed at Gettysburg.

Seated at Clarkson Potter’s table, I asked Barlow: “General, are you related to the Barlow who was killed at Gettysburg?” He replied: “Why, I am the man, sir. Are you related to the Gordon who killed me?” “I am the man, sir,” I responded. No words of mine can convey any conception of the emotions awakened by those startling announcements. Nothing short of an actual resurrection from the dead could have amazed either of us more. Thenceforward, until his untimely death in 1896, the friendship between us which was born amidst the thunders of Gettysburg was greatly cherished by both.

 The story was told by Barlow and by Gordon and was published in newspapers and in Gordon’s book.

The irony of this incident is that Francis Barlow led the 61st New York and the 63rd New York at Antietam. His combined units flanked the Sunken Road and created the famous pictures of the dead Confederates in the road, many commanded by Gordon. My own second great grandfather, Sgt. Michael Patrick Murphy, was among the Union troops who caused the carnage. In a later affidavit, he wrote how they forded the creek, organized themselves and proceeded to the attack. “We had it hot for some time.”

Gordon’s Civil War Service: 1864-1865

Gordon proposed a flanking attack at the start of the Overland Campaign at the Wilderness but his commander Jubal Early would not allow it. After the Wilderness Gordon was given command of Early’s Division when he was promoted. At Spotsylvania Court House his unit turned back the massive Union attack at the ‘Bloody Angle’ and prevented a Confederate rout. During the battle he was promoted to major general.

It was at the latter battle that Gordon found General Robert E. Lee riding his horse Traveller to the center of the line, preparing to join a charge. Gordon shouted, “General Lee, this is no place for you. These men behind you are Georgians and Virginians. They have never failed you and will not fail you here. Will you boys?” Gordon’s men yelled, “No, no, we’ll not fail him.” He then had two of his men escort General Lee to the rear and safety.

Gordon went with Early to the Valley when the latter was given command of the Army of the Valley. He  was wounded August 25, 1864, at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The incident was described by Confederate cartographer Jedediah Hotchkiss in his official report, “Quite a lively skirmish ensued, in which Gordon was wounded in the head, but he gallantly dashed on, the blood streaming over him.”

After the Confederate defeat Battle of Cedar Creek, Gordon returned to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia where he was given command of the Second Corps which he led until the surrender at Appomattox. His corps defended the line during the Siege of Petersburg. commanded the attack on Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865 where he was wounded again, in the leg.

At Appomattox Court House, he led his men in the last charge of the Army of Northern Virginia, capturing the entrenchments and several pieces of artillery in his front just before the surrender.

It was at the surrender ceremony that Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered a salute that at first startled Gordon who led the Southern infantry. Here is Chamberlain’s poignant account of the surrender ceremony.

My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead! 

Gordon’s Postwar Career

Appomattox was not the end of John Brown Gordon’s career but the beginning of its next phase. He was a firm opponent of Reconstruction and endorsed measures to preserve white-dominated society, including restrictions on freedmen and the use of violence. It was thought that he was the titular head of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, a charge that he denied. He did acknowledge he was associated with a secret “peace police” organization whose sole purpose was the “preservation of peace.”

He ran for governor in 1868 but was defeated. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1873 and in 1879 became the first ex-Confederate to preside of that august body.The day after he became President Pro Tem of the Senate he obtained a promise from President Ulysses S. Grant to remove Federal officials in Georgia who had gained their positions through fraud or corruption.

John Gordon was a strong supporter of the “New South” and industrialization. Gordon resigned from the Senate in May 1880 to promote a venture for the Georgia Pacific Railway. He was elected Governor of Georgia in 1886 and returned to the U.S. Senate from 1891 to 1897.

In 1903 Gordon published an account of his Civil War service entitled Reminiscences of the Civil War. He engaged in a series of popular speaking engagements throughout the country.

John Gordon was the first Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans when the group was organized in 1890 and held this position until his death in 1904. He died while visiting one of his sons in Miami, Florida on January 9, 1904 at the age of 71. It was reported that 75,000 people attended his funeral in Atlanta where he was buried.

Gordon was a proponent of the ‘Lost Cause’ myth that sprang up after the war. Those who contributed to the movement tended to portray the Confederacy’s cause as noble and most of its leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by the Union armies through overwhelming force rather than martial skill.

Gordon often spoke at veteran’s gatherings. At one gathering of veterans from both armies, Gordon spoke after his friend, Joshua Chamberlain. He turned to Chamberlain, saying: “You were right but so were we.”



March 9, 1864: The Day the Union Won the War

This entry is part 12 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

Lt Gen Ulysses S. GrantThere are differing opinions on the turning point or points of the American Civil War. The arguments will probably go one as long as people remember the events that took place from 1861 until 1865.

Many historians say that Gettysburg was the turning point. of war. It marked the first time that Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was soundly defeated by the Army of the Potomac.

Others will point to the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history. It wasn’t so much the battle but what came after with the Emancipation Proclamation and the eventual dismissal of George McClellan. These two events set the Union government on a new course. The war became more than a fight over states’ rights and saving the Union. It became a struggle to free 4,000,000 slaves from bondage.

Those who favor the Western Theater and its impact on the eventual outcome of the war point to the siege and surrender of Vicksburg. Coupled with the surrender of Port Hudson, these two events split the Confederacy for as Jefferson Davis had said: “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” President Lincoln announced, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

Professor Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia feels very strongly that the Battle of Seven Pines was a turning point in the struggle. The battle which took place on May 31 to June 1, 1862 saw the severe wounding of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and his replacement in command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee’s superior ability as a field command would extend the Confederate effort for almost three more years.

But March 9, 1864 was a significant day in the Union war effort for it was on that day that Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General and appointed General-in-Chief of all of the Union armies. Grant was only the third lieutenant general in the United States Army, following in the footsteps of George Washington and Winfield Scott.

It was the appointment that counted but what Grant did with it. As General-in-Chief with the overall command of five armies, Grant strategy was one that the Confederacy could not overcome. He knew that the South could neither match the North’s industrial capacity nor its manpower advantage.

He proposed a coordinated series of offensives in all theaters of combat. They would begin about May 1st and continue until the Confederacy surrendered. The Confederacy would be unable to move forces from one theater to the other in order to reinforce their forces under attack. His strategy would negate the Southern advantage of having interior lines.

The only exception would be Lee’s dispatch of General Jubal A. Early to the Shenandoah Valley where he outmatched every Union commander until Grant sent General Philip Sheridan to lead the Union effort in the Valley. He eventually defeated Early and deprived Lee’s army of the provisions from this breadbasket of the Confederacy.

Grant realized a fundamental truth. In order to win the war he needed to defeat Lee’s army. Once the South was deprived of the veteran army which was led by their national hero, they would surrender and end the war.

Grant traveled with the Army of the Potomac which was commanded by General George Gordon Meade. Grant set the strategy and Meade mostly carried out the tactics. After the bloody three-day Battle of the Wilderness, the troops expected to withdraw across the Rapidan as “Fighting Joe” Hooker had done after the Battle Chancellorsville.

But Grant had ordered that the pontoon bridges across Germanna Ford on the Rapidan and Lee knew it. Here is how Noah Andre Trudeau in Bloody Roads South relates what occurred at about 8:30 PM on May 7th.

Generals Grant and Meade, with their staffs and escort…started out by the Brock Road, along which Hancock’s men were lying behind the works in which they had been fighting so hard.

A Second Corps soldier recalled later: Shortly after dark a loud cheer suddenly uprose on the right, and was taken up by regiment after regiment, as Generals Grant and Meade, with their staffs, moved toward the left in the direction of Spotsylvania Court House.

A soldier from the 19th Maine was uncertain of the time but he vividly described the scene:

…while the Regiment was resting by the roadside and awaiting developments, Generals Grant and Meade, accompanied by their staffs, rode along and halted at General Hancock’s headquarters…The burning woods lighted up the scene, and when the faces of the commanders were recognized, wild cheers echoed through the forest.”

For two years the Union Army of the Potomac had turned back, retreated and withdrew. No more. One Ninth Corps artilleryman summed up the feelings of many of his fellow Union soldiers:

The rank and file of the army wanted no more retreating, and from the moment when we…continued straight on towards Spotsylvania. I never had a doubt that General Grant would lead us on to final victory.

Neither did Abraham Lincoln. After all, after the Battle of Shiloh when the criticism of Grant’s leadership was called into question, the President said: I can’t spare this man; he fights.


“Fighting Joe” Hooker

This entry is part 6 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Joseph HookerMaj. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker was elevated to the command of the Army of the Potomac on January 26, 1863. Up to that point Hooker had a distinguished record of achievement both before and during the Civil War.

Hooker was a graduate of West Point’s class of 1837 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the artillery. His initial assignment was in Florida fighting in the second of the Seminole Wars. He served in the Mexican-American War in staff positions in the campaigns of both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott.

He received brevet promotions for his staff leadership and gallantry in three battles: Monterrey (to captain),National Bridge (major), and Chapultepec (lieutenant colonel). His future Army reputation as a ladies’ man began in Mexico, where local girls referred to him as the “Handsome Captain”.

Hooker left the army in 1853 after he had testified against General Winfield Scott in defense of Gideon Pillow who had been charged with insubordination. He left the army in California and settled in Sonoma County working as a farmer and land developer. In actuality, he was more devoted to gambling and liquor than to agriculture. In 1858, he asked to be reinstated but nothing came of his request. Instead, he served as a colonel in the California militia.

At the start of the war he again asked for reinstatement but was again rejected perhaps because Winfield Scott, the General-in-Chief, harbored some lingering resentment from the Pillow trial. After the disastrous Battle of First Manassas he wrote directly to President Lincoln offering his services. This time he was reinstated with the rank of brigadier general in August 1861.

He commanded a brigade and then a division in the Army of the Potomac. During the fighting on the Peninsula he distinguished himself while leading the 2nd Division of the III Corps at the Battle of Williamsburg and throughout the Peninsula campaign and the Seven Days Battles. He was promoted to major general on May 5, 1862.

Ever the aggressive commander, he chafed under the cautious leadership of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. He openly criticized McClellan for his failure to take Richmond. Of his commander, Hooker said, “He is not only not a soldier, but he does not know what soldiership is.” During these campaigns Hooker became known for his devotion to the welfare and morale of his men, and his hard drinking social life, even on the battlefield.

Hooker’s division was transferred to John Pope’s Army of Virginia. He was appointed to the command of the III Corps after the defeat at Second Manassas replacing Samuel P. Heintzelman who was relieved of command and shunted off to  the command of the Washington defenses.

His corps was redesignated I Corps and returned to the Army of the Potomac in early September 1862. They joined the army for the fighting  at South Mountain and Antietam where Hooker and his troops distinguished themselves. At Antietam Hooker’s corps launched the initial assault of the day at the Cornfield against “Stonewall” Jackson’s corps.

Hooker’s men paid heavily in the fighting, suffering 2,500 casualties in the first two hours of the battle. It was estimated that the Cornfield changed hands no fewer than 15 times in the course of the morning.

Major Rufus Dawes who assumed command of the Iron Brigade’s 6th Wisconsin Regiment in comparing the fighting to latter battles said that “the Antietam Turnpike surpassed them all in manifest evidence of slaughter.”  When Confederate Brig. Gen. John Bell Hood was asked by a fellow officer where his division was, replied: “Dead on the field”, having suffered 60% casualties.

Hooker was wounded in the foot during the fighting and carried from the field. He later insisted that if he had not been wounded his attack would have succeeded. General McClellan’s caution had again cost the Union a clear-cut victory and Robert E. Lee had once again succeeded in extricating his smaller force to the safety of Virginia.

President Lincoln apparently agreed because he relieved McClellan of command when he did not pursue the enemy. In his place, Lincoln appointed Ambrose Burnside to the command of the Army of the Potomac. Recovering from his wound Hooker was at first given command of the V Corps and then a “Grand Division” of the of both III and V Corps. Hooker’s Center Grand Division had a total of 6 divisions of infantry and one brigade of cavalry.

Hooker thought that Burnside’s plan of attack was “preposterous”. His Grand Division suffered serious losses after 14 futile, frontal assaults against the Marye’s Heights defenses. After the humiliating Mud March in January Burnside proposed a wholesale purge of his commanders but instead Lincoln relieved him of command and replaced him with Hooker.

During the spring of 1863 Hooker set about reviving the morale of the Army of the Potomac. Among his changes were fixes to the daily diet of the troops, camp sanitary changes, improvements and accountability of the quartermaster system, addition of and monitoring of company cooks, several hospital reforms, and an improved furlough system (one man per company by turn, 10 days each).

Other orders addressed the need to stem rising desertion (one from Lincoln combined with incoming mail review, the ability to shoot deserters, and better camp picket lines), more and better drills, stronger officer training, and for the first time, combining the federal cavalry into a single corps.

Hooker said of his army:

I have the finest army on the planet. I have the finest army the sun ever shone on. … If the enemy does not run, God help them. May God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.

Hooker relieved a number of officers who had been McClellan’s favorites and sent Burnside’s old corps to the Virginia Peninsula. His headquarters acquired a reputation as a combination of a “bar-room and a brothel” according to Charles F. Adams, Jr.

Hooker had an elaborate plan for the spring and summer campaign against Lee. He first planned to send his cavalry corps deep into the enemy’s rear, disrupting supply lines and distracting him from the main attack. He would pin down Robert E. Lee’s much smaller army at Fredericksburg, while taking the large bulk of the Army of the Potomac on a flanking march to strike Lee in his rear. Then he would move on Richmond.

However, the execution of his plan required commanders as daring as he was. The cavalry was commanded Brig. Gen. George Stoneman who cautiously moved forward and met none of his objectives. The flanking march started off well but Hooker lost his nerve and pulled back to the small crossroads of Chancellorsville.

While the Army of the Potomac sat immobile and on the defensive, Lee split his army twice and sent “Stonewall” Jackson on a flank attack against the Union right where they routed the XI Corps. In the midst of all this Hooker was knocked unconscious when a cannonball hit the porch where he was standing. He refused to turn over command of the army to his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch.

Hooker ordered his army back across the Rappahannock. Meanwhile, Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia set off for their second invasion of the North. Lincoln ordered Hooker to pursue Lee and forego any movement toward Richmond.

When the general got into a dispute with Army headquarters over the status of defensive forces in Harpers Ferry, he impulsively offered his resignation in protest, which was quickly accepted by Lincoln and General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck. On June 28, three days before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, Hooker was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade.

However, Joe Hooker’s career was not over. He returned to combat in November, leading two corps from the Army of the Potomac to help relieve the besieged Union Army at Chattanooga, Tennessee, and achieving an important victory at the Battle of Lookout Mountain during the Chattanooga Campaign. He continued in the Western Theater under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, but left before the end of the Atlanta Campaign when he was bypassed for a promotion to command the Army of the Tennessee.


McClellan’s Failed Successors: Ambrose Burnside

This entry is part 5 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Ambrose BurnsideMaj. Gen. George B. McClellan was relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac on November 9, 1862. The main reason for his removal was his failure to us the instrument of war that he created. Commanders love the army but the great commanders must risk the destruction of the thing that they love to achieve victory. George McClellan was not a great commander.

McClellan was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. A West Point graduate in the class of 1847, Burnside had served in Mexico but by the time that he had arrived hostilities had ceased and he saw only garrison duty. He then served two years on the western frontier under Captain Braxton Bragg. In 1852 he returned east to Rhode Island where he met and married Mary Richmond Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1853 Burnside resigned his commission and entered the business world where he devoted his time and energy to the manufacture of the famous firearm that bears his name, the Burnside carbine. He obtained government contracts and invested heavily in manufacturing equipment. But through devious means he lost the contracts and was ruined financially. He then moved west where became treasurer of the Illinois Central Railroad. He worked for, and became friendly with, one of his future commanding officers, George B. McClellan.

At the start of the Civil War Burnside was a brigadier general in the Rhode Island Militia. He raised a regiment, the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, and was appointed its colonel on May 2, 1861. Within a month he was given a brigade which he led without distinction at the First Battle of Manassas. He was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers but relegated to training provisional brigades for the Army of the Potomac.

Burnside commanded the Coast Division, or North Carolina Expeditionary Force—three brigades assembled in Annapolis, Maryland, which formed the nucleus for his future IX Corps—and the Department of North Carolina, from September 1861 until July 1862. He conducted a successful amphibious campaign that closed over 80% of the North Carolina sea coast to Confederate shipping for the remainder of the war.

He was promoted to major general of volunteers and his units were assigned to the Army of the Potomac as the IX Corps. After McClellan’s failure on the Peninsula Burnside was offered command of the Army of the Potomac, citing his lack of requisite experience. His corps was detached for service with Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia. After the defeat at Second Manassas, Burnside was again offered the command of the army and again refused due to lack of experience and loyalty to McClellan.

At Antietam Burnside commanded his corps which was placed at the southern end of the Union position. His corps was tasked with crossing the Rohrbach’s Bridge, a three-span, 125-foot (38 m) stone structure that was the southernmost crossing of the Antietam. His four divisions of 12,500 men faced a small Confederate force of 3,000 men and 12 guns. However, the superior Confederate defenses stymied Burnside’s men for critical hours until their eventual breakthrough. The Union casualties  at Burnside’s Bridge amounted to 20% of their strength.

After McClellan’s relief in November Burnside was again offered the command of the army. He reluctantly accepted when he was informed that Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker was the alternative. Disliking Hooker, Burnside accepted command. President immediately began pressuring Burnside to launch an attack on the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Burnside formulated a plan to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg using pontoon bridges. But the plan was poorly executed and Gen. Robert E. Lee was given sufficient time to concentrate his army and repulse the Army of the Potomac. He ordered a series of bloody frontal assaults against Marye’s Heights. The Army of the Potomac suffered 12,653 total casualties while the Confederates sustained only 5,377. Detractors labeled Burnside the “Butcher of Fredericksburg”.

In January 1863, Burnside launched a second offensive against Lee, but it bogged down in winter rains before it accomplished anything and has been derisively called the Mud March. In its wake, he asked that several officers, who were openly insubordinate, be relieved of duty and court-martialed; he also offered to resign. Lincoln chose the latter option on January 26 and replaced him with Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, one of the officers who had conspired against Burnside.

It turned out that Ambrose Burnside was a better corps commander than an army commander. Lincoln refused Burnside’s offer to resign from the army altogether. He was placed back at the head of the IX Corps and sent to command the Department of the Ohio, encompassing the states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. While in command of this department he clashed with the anti-war Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham.

Burnside’s IX Corps was heavily involved during the Knoxville Campaign. He occupied the city of Knoxville unopposed. At the Cumberland Gap he forced the surrender of 2,300 Confederate troops. He then clashed with James LOngstreet’s corps but he was able to outmaneuver him and return to the safety of Knoxville. Tying down Longstreet’s corps at Knoxville contributed to Gen. Braxton Bragg‘s defeat by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga.

Burnside’s corps was returned to the Eastern Theater where it eventually became part of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside fought at the battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, where he did not perform in a distinguished manner, attacking piecemeal and appearing reluctant to commit his troops to the frontal assaults that characterized these battles. After North Anna and Cold Harbor, he took his place in the siege lines at Petersburg.

Troops under Burnside’s command suggested that they dig a mine under a fort named Elliot’s Salient in the Confederate entrenchments and ignite explosives there to achieve a surprise breakthrough. The fort was destroyed on July 30 in what is known as the Battle of the Crater. Because of interference from Meade, Burnside was ordered, only hours before the infantry attack, not to use his division of black troops, which had been specially trained for this mission. He was forced to use untrained white troops instead.

He could not decide which division to choose as a replacement, so he had his three subordinate commanders draw lots. The division chosen by chance was that commanded by Brig. Gen. James H. Ledlie, who failed to brief the men on what was expected of them and was reported during the battle to be drunk well behind the lines, providing no leadership. Ledlie’s men entered the huge crater instead of going around it, becoming trapped, and were subjected to heavy fire from Confederates around the rim, resulting in high casualties.

Burnside was relieved of command for the final time and was never given another command. A court of inquiry later placed the blame for the Crater fiasco on Burnside and his subordinates. In December, Burnside met with President Lincoln and General Grant about his future. He was contemplating resignation, but Lincoln and Grant requested that he remain in the Army. At the end of the interview, Burnside wrote, “I was not informed of any duty upon which I am to be placed.” He finally resigned his commission on April 15, 1865, after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

The United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War later exonerated Burnside, and placed the blame for the Union defeat at the Crater on General Meade for requiring the specially trained USCT (United States Colored Troops) men to be withdrawn.

Despite all of his failures Ambrose Burnside was elected to three one-year terms as Governor of Rhode Island (May 1866 to May 1869).


McClellan at Antietam

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Command Decisions

Battle of AntietamMaj. Gen. George McClellan’s final battle as commander of the Army of the Potomac was Antietam or as Southerners call it, Sharpsburg. The bloodiest single day battle in American history, Antietam is considered a tactical draw, even though the Union Army held the field while Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia retreated back across the Potomac into the safety of Virginia.

After the debacle of the Seven Days Battles, McClellan had withdrawn his huge army south to the James River where it was under the guns of the Union Navy. In August the bulk of McClellan’s command was transferred to the Army of Virginia, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope. Almost immediately Pope was engaged by Lee in a series of battles culminating in his defeat at Second Manassas or Bull Run.

After Pope’s defeat, Lincoln reluctantly returned McClellan to Washington where he combined both his force on the Peninsula and Pope’s shattered army into a strengthened Army of the Potomac. Lincoln told his aid John Hay, “We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can’t fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight.”

Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee shorn of any adversaries (or so he thought) crossed the Potomac and invaded Maryland on September 2nd. So began the great chase North. The two forces met at Harpers Ferry which Stonewall Jackson masterfully captured on September 15th. Another wing of Lee’s army fought pitched battles were fought on September 14 for possession of the South Mountain passes: Crampton’s, Turner’s, and Fox’s Gaps.

When Lee realized that he was overmatched he ordered his army to withdraw west to Sharpsburg. Meanwhile, an Indiana soldier discovered Robert E. Lee’s orders to his army wrapped around several cigars. McClellan confided to a subordinate, “Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home.”

Unfortunately, many historians believe that McClellan failed to fully exploit the strategic advantage of the intelligence because he was concerned about a possible trap (posited by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck) or gross overestimation of the strength of Lee’s army.

Many historians say that even though McClellan brought a larger army that the Confederates to Antietam, he brought one soldier too many: himself. At Antietam, McClellan fought a piece-meal battle. Rather than ordering a general attack in the morning, the battle unfolded from north to south in a piece-meal fashion. These tactics allowed Lee’s outnumbered forces to move defensive forces to the points of the Union attacks.

McClellan also confined his movements across Antietam Creek the the various bridges that spanned the waterway. He believed that the creek was unfordable, yet units of Richardson’s Division forded it at the center of the battlefield opposite. My own second great grandfather recorded this in a latter affidavit.

In addition, McClellan has been heavily criticized for holding back his reserve force under the command of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter. When Col. Francis C. Barlow and 350 men of the 61st and 64th New York saw a weak point in the line and seized a knoll commanding the sunken road. This allowed them to get enfilade fire into the Confederate line, turning it into a deadly trap.

The Confederate line broke and created a massive hole in their defenses but there was no force to follow up and rout the enemy. Porter is said to have told McClellan, “Remember, General, I command the last reserve of the last Army of the Republic.” McClellan took his implied advice and failed to commit his reserves into a battle that might have been won if he had used his forces aggressively.

McClellan failed to make the correct command decisions at Antietam and it cost the Union Army a clear victory and an opportunity to destroy Lee’s army. The destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia would have left Richmond virtually defenseless and with their capital city captured the South would have likely lost the war in 1862.




The Halfway Point: April 8, 1863

Lincoln reviews Union troops at Falmouth, VAA recollection from the the 10th Massachusetts regimental history reads: “WEDNESDAY, April 8. The infantry and light artillery of the army of the Potomac were reviewed by President Lincoln and General Hooker. Nearly the entire army was assembled, and though closely packed, covered a large area of country. It was an imposing spectacle. The army was in splendid condition, and made a fine appearance. This is the third time we have been reviewed by the President, in the field; once at Harrison’s Landing, once at Downesville, and now at Falmouth.”

April 8, 1863 was the halfway point in the American Civil War. Of course, those on each side had no idea that the war was at the halfway point. Both armies had evolved from armed mobs into semblances of the modern forces that they would become by 1864.

Behind them were the early battles in Virginia and Maryland, mostly won by Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. In the West the seeds of the Confederacy’s destruction were being sown in places like Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and along the Mississippi by a little-known Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant was currently in a military chess match with his adversaries in an attempt to capture the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. With complete and utter determination the stubborn Grant would fence with his opponents for six months before his final triumph. But in April it seemed that Vicksburg was unassailable.

On January 1, 1863, the Lincoln administration had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, and ordered the Army (and all segments of the Executive branch) to treat as free all those enslaved in ten states that were still in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. With emancipation came the raising of regiments of black men to fight for the Union Cause. Eventually some 180,000 men would fight for the Union.

In the East, yet another Union commander of the Army of the Potomac, “Fighting Joe” Hooker was once more reorganized the oft-reorganized On to Richmond PosterUnion army. The army’s morale had been at a low point after Ambrose Burnside’s “Mud March” and Hooker needed to raise it before taking the huge army South across the Rappahannock against Lee. Hooker was planning a massive stroke against the Confederates before sending his force to Richmond.

In the East, Richmond was still the main target of the Union army. “On to Richmond” had been the rallying cry since the beginning of the war. The Union’s fixation on capturing the enemy capital played into the strategy of Lee. Using Richmond as bait, Joseph E. Johnston and Lee were able to defeat the Union army of George McClellan on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days’ Battles.

Lee then followed up his victories with the utter defeat of the Union Army of Virginia at Second Manassas or Second Bull Run. He then met McClellan once again in a bloody draw at Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland. This was followed by Lee’s successful defense of Fredericksburg in December 1862.

In the West, Grant was beginning to show the world his genius for the use of river transports to move his troops against his opponents. He captured Fort Henry after heavy naval bombardment from the U.S. Navy’s Western Flotilla. He then moved quickly to surround Fort Donelson and after naval bombardment failed to reduce the fort, Grant’s troops stormed the Confederate lines. Over 12,000 Confederates surrendered to the Union army.

At the halfway point, events in the West seemed to be moving in favor of the Union. With Grants skillful use of maneuver and his victorious Army of the Tennessee, the Union cause seemed to be on the upsurge. In the East, however, the Battle of Chancellorsville was yet to come. More importantly, every manpower loss by the Confederacy hurt them worse than the losses by the Union. Eventually, the South would bleed to death. It was a race against time for the South.


General Thomas J. Jackson: “Stonewall”

Stonewall JacksonThomas Jonathan Jackson, the officer that came to be known as “Stonewall”, was born in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia in 1824. Orphaned by 7 years old, Jackson was raised by various relatives until he entered West Point in 1842.

Jackson had very little early schooling but he worked hard at the military academy. Jackson graduated 17th out of 59 students in the Class of 1846. It was said by his peers that if he had stayed there another year, he would have graduated first.

Jackson began his career as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery Regiment and was sent to fight in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. He served at the Siege of Veracruz and the battles of Contreras, Chapultepec, and Mexico City, eventually earning two brevet promotions, and the regular army rank of first lieutenant. It was in Mexico that Thomas Jackson first met Robert E. Lee.

Jackson was praised by General Winfield Scott for earning more promotions than any other officer during the three-year war.

In 1851, Jackson began his career at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. He became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor of Artillery. Parts of Jackson’s curriculum are still taught at VMI, regarded as timeless military essentials: discipline, mobility, assessing the enemy’s strength and intentions while attempting to conceal your own, and the efficiency of artillery combined with an infantry assault. Jackson was to use all of these during his two-year meteoric career.

Jackson was designated to lead a contingent of VMI cadets to Charles Town for the hanging of John Brown on December 2, 1859. He saw only “unflinching firmness” in Brown’s actions on that prophetic day.

When Virginia seceded, Jackson was promoted to colonel and ordered to become the drillmaster for new recruits to the Confederate army. On April 27, 1861, he was ordered to Harpers Ferry by the governor. There, he was to form the infantry brigade that later became famous as the “Stonewall” Brigade, consisting of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia Infantry regiments. All of these units were from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, where Jackson located his headquarters throughout the first two years of the war.

Jackson was promoted to brigadier general in June after a spectacular raid on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on May 24th. Jackson’s operations were aimed at disrupting a critical railroad used by the opposing Union Army as a major supply route and capturing the maximum number of locomotives and cars. In June, General Joseph Johnston ordered Jackson and his brigade to join the main Confederate Army confronting the Union forces around Manassas.

Jackson earned his famous nickname at the First Battle of Manassas in July. Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!” Although there is some controversy about Bee’s rationale, he was killed shortly after and the name stuck.

After the battle, Jackson was promoted to major general and given command of the Valley District. It was here that “Stonewall” Jackson became famous. In a lightening campaign that lasted from March 23, 1862 until June 9th, Jackson’s 17,000 men marched 646 miles  in 48 days and won six out of seven battles as they successfully engaged three Union armies (52,000 men), preventing them from reinforcing the Union offensive against Richmond.

With the success of his Valley Campaign, Stonewall Jackson became the most celebrated soldier in the Confederacy (until his reputation was eventually eclipsed by Lee’s), and his victories lifted the morale of the public.

Jackson then joined the main Confederate army east of Richmond where he eventually became Robert E. Lee’s senior subordinate, commanding the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. His troops served well during the Seven Days Campaign but Jackson’s reputation fared rather poorly.

Victorious once again at the Second Battle of Manassas, Jackson would lead his veteran troops into Maryland. His corps commanded included four divisions of veteran troops with attached artillery for each division.

Jackson was assigned by Lee to capture Harpers Ferry so that there would be no threat to the Confederates’ supply lines back to Virginia. His troops surrounded the town and forced its surrender. The victorious Confederates captured mountains of weapons and supplies, besides almost 12,500 Union soldiers.

Moving on to Sharpsburg, Maryland, Jackson commanded the northern end of the Antietam battlefield, where his men bore the brunt of the early fighting. At the end of the day, Jackson’s subordinate, Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill, prevented a Union breakthrough at the southern end of the battlefield. Hill’s troops were the last to arrive, having stayed at Harpers Ferry to arrange the surrender and parole of the captured Union troops.

In December, Jackson’s Second Corps held off a strong Union assault against the right flank of the Confederate line at the Battle of Fredericksburg, in what became a decisive Confederate victory.

The Battle of Chancellorsville was Stonewall Jackson’s final and perhaps, his greatest tactical achievement. Jackson’s famous Flank Attack broke the Union lines and forced a rout of the Union Army.The Confederates marched silently until they were merely several hundred feet from the Union position, then released a bloodthirsty cry and full charge. Many of the Federals were captured without a shot fired, the rest were driven into a full rout. Jackson pursued relentlessly back toward the center of the Federal line until dusk.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own troops while leading a party that was scouting the forward lines. The North Carolina troops thought that the group were Union cavalry. Jackson was hit by three bullets, two in the left arm and one in the right hand. Several other men in his staff were killed, in addition to many horses. Darkness and confusion prevented Jackson from getting immediate care. He was dropped from his stretcher while being evacuated because of incoming artillery rounds.

Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated by the chief surgeon of Jackson’s Corps, Dr. Hunter H. McGuire. The General’s condition was not helped by the rough evacuation to a farm some 18 miles from the battlefield. Jackson eventually succumbed to pneumonia.

A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks”—then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” Thomas J. Jackson died on May 10, 1863 at the age of 39.

His friend and commander, General Robert E. Lee on the night that he learned of Jackson’s death, told his cook, “William, I have lost my right arm” and “I’m bleeding at the heart.” 

The Confederacy never replaced Jackson’s superior command and tactical skills. Less than six weeks later, Lee was defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg.



Another View of George McClellan at Antietam

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series The Maryland Campaign

General George McClellanMaj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, has come in for withering criticism from most historians for his actions at the Battle of Antietam.

There are some who question his timidity and say that he may not have had the will to destroy the Confederate army because he was a Democrat. As a Democrat, they say, he was opposed to Lincoln’s war aims of freeing the slaves. However, only a select few knew that Lincoln would issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation after the next Union victory.

Others say that McClellan was loathe to hazard the Army of the Potomac in pitched battle. He had created the army over the previous year and the troops worshiped their young commander.

Here are some known facts about George McClellan. He was superb when it came to military logistics. We must remember that at the start of the war no officer had commanded a regiment in peacetime, much less an army in combat. The two army’s were simply armed mobs in the fighting of 1861, intent upon bludgeoning the other side into submission.

McClellan took the Union armed mob and made it into the Army of the Potomac. At the start of the Peninsula Campaign, he made sure that his vast army of 100,000 all arrived on the Peninsula in reasonable order with proper supplies, equipment and support. It was a feat that many historians overlook.

However, George McClellan was not a great battlefield commander like Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant. His skills on the battlefield suffer by comparison to these two superb field commanders.

McClellan’s reputation for timidity was set for all time by the events surrounding his actions before, during and after the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Perhaps, it’s time to take another look at the underlying facts surrounding the events.

First and foremost is the question of troop strength for both armies. The Union Army of the Potomac had been in flux for at least two months before Antietam. The army had been on the Peninsula where it fought a series of battles culminating in the Seven Days Campaign. McClellan had retired after the Battle of Malvern Hill and after his failure to resume operations the Union high command shifted many of his troops to the Army of Virginia, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope.

Pope was beaten badly at the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) and withdrew back to the Washington defenses. Lincoln hesitated to act but finally on September 1st, he returned the shattered formations of Pope’s army to McClellan’s command. Ever the egotist, McClellan wrote to his wife that he was once more asked to save the nation.

But what did McClellan have? The Union army was composed of four separate commands, thousands of untrained recruits and other small units scattered around the area. Three of his commanders had been relieved of command, charged with insubordination by Pope. His cavalry command had been reduced from a paper strength of 28 regiments to a mere 1,500 troopers. Opposing them were 5,000 Confederate veterans led by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.

Most historians number the Union army at 87,000 men and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at 40,000. Sometimes the Confederates are credited with starting the campaign with 55,000 men in the belief that by the day of the battle some 15,000 straggled off. Five days after the battle, Lee reported that he had 36,418 infantry. He did not include his cavalry or artillery units in his counts. Adding in 5,000 men for the missing components, it appears that he had 41,000 men at the end of the campaign.

Eighteen days later, on Oct. 10, Lee filed his first complete report, which showed 64,273 present for duty.  Lee had not received a single additional regiment in the interim time. When his campaign losses of 13,417 are added to this total, we have a figure of 77,690 men at the start of the campaign, a far cry from 40,000-41,000. Eyewitness accounts corroborate the estimate of 77,000 men.

Special Order Number 191 holds a primary place in the McClellan reputation of timidity. For many years it was believed that McClellan waited an inordinate amount of time before he acted on the contents of Lee’s “lost” orders. Special Order Number 191 was Robert E. Lee’s plan for the entire Maryland Campaign.

It revealed that Lee had dangerously split his army into five parts. Three columns had converged on Harpers Ferry to capture the Federal garrison there, a fourth column was in Hagerstown, and a fifth column was acting as a rear guard near Boonesboro, Md. It was discovered on September 13, 1862 by an Indiana corporal who passed it up the chain of command.

For many years it was believed that McClellan waited 18 hours before acting on the intelligence the order contained. Stephen Sears in his bestselling work Landscape Turned Red cites a telegram that McClellan sent to Abraham Lincoln at “12 M”, which Sears says stands for meridian or noon, in which McClellan confidently informs the president that he has the plans of the enemy and that “no time shall be lost” in attacking Lee.

After the book was published, the receipt for the telegram was discovered among the Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. It shows that the telegram was sent a midnight, hence the “12 M” notation. This casts a totally different light on McClellan’s response to the “Lost orders” intelligence.

The revised timeline should read like this. The orders were found at about noon, according to the Indiana unit’s commander. McClellan had them by 3:00 PM. McClellan ordered his cavalry commander to begin a reconnaissance to determine the validity of the information. At about 3:30 PM, he ordered Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside to begin to move his IX Corps in pursuit of Lee. At about 6:20 PM, the rest of the army received orders to commence their movement at sunrise on the 14th.

By 9:00 AM the Union army began to climb South Mountain and clashed with the Confederate rear guard. After an all-day battle, the Union army captured the heights and the Confederates had retreated back to the west. They established defensive positions on Antietam Creek on the 15th, pursued by the Union army.

When these two pivotal factors are included in the narrative, it would appear that McClellan did not dawdle as many historians contend. It would also appear that the armies were more evenly matched than it has been previously reported.

We still cannot excuse George McClellan for his timidity as a battlefield commanders. His refusal to send in his reserves after the bloody struggle in the center of the line is inexcusable. Doing so would have split the Army of Northern Virginia in half and invited its defeat in detail. With its primary army defeated and destroyed, the Confederate government would have been forced to surrender.



The Emancipation Proclamation

Emancipation Proclamation in colorThe bloodiest day in American history took place near Sharpsburg, Maryland on the banks of Antietam Creek on September 17, 1862. Considering it a sufficient enough Union victory, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd.

Lincoln had been contemplating and revising the document for several months. He discussed it with his cabinet on July 22nd and Secretary of State William Seward felt that it could not be issued until there was a Union victory to support it’s issuance. Seward said that it would otherwise be seen as “…a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.”

Lincoln agreed and returned it to a pigeon hole in his desk, editing it and polishing the verbiage while he anxiously awaited a victory. July flowed into August and the fortunes of the Union did not improve.

General George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac had failed on the Peninsula and during the Seven Days Battles before Richmond. In frustration Lincoln ordered the greater portion of his armty to be transferred to the command of Maj. Gen. John Pope and the Army of Virginia.

Pope and his 70,000-man army was outmaneuvered by General Robert E. Lee, assisted by his subordinate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee detached Jackson’s corps of 24,000 men and they defeated Maj. Gen. Pope’s subordinate, Nathaniel Banks at Cedar Mountain. Jackson followed this by swinging around Pope’s rear and capturing the main Union supply base at Manassas Junction.

What followed was a neat trap that Lee and the Army of Norther Virginia sprang on an unsuspecting Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run. In a two-day battle in the area that saw the first Confederate victory a year earlier, the Union forces were soundly defeated and forced to retreat back to the Washington defenses.

Pope was relieved and replaced by McClellan on September 12, 1862. His army was merged back into the Army of the Potomac and they moved north in pursuit of Lee’s army which had crossed the Potomac into Maryland. Fighting a series of battles at Harpers Ferry and then at South Mountain, the Union army met the Confederate invaders along the banks of Antietam creek on September 17th.

After twelve hours of savage fighting, the two armies had sustained a total of over 23,000 casualties. It was the bloodiest single day of the war and is the bloodiest day in American history. The two armies faced it other for another day until Lee, realizing that McClellan was not planning to Dead Confederate Soldiers at Antietamattack his wounded army, collected his wounded and moved south to cross the Potomac back to the safety of Virginia.

Lincoln had his victory, however indecisive it may have been. The Confederates had been repulsed and forced to retreat. That was good enough for the President. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation that he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America that did not return to Union control by January 1, 1863.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a final attempt by the Federal government to force the seceded states to return to the Union. Lincoln and his government did not expect any to be intimidated into returning by the proclamation and none were.

The Emancipation Proclamation accomplished several objectives for the Union government. First and foremost, it changed the focus of the war by adding the abolition of slavery to the primary goal of the war, the preservation of the Union.

It removed slaves and their labor from the control of the Confederate government and southern industry. As Union armies moved into areas of the south that were still in rebellion, the proclamation gave Union commanders the power to free slaves as a necessity of the Union war effort. Their labor was transferred from one side to the other, thus depriving the Confederates of much-needed assistance with their war effort.

The British and French governments had been considering recognition of the Confederate government. Both countries had abolished slavery and with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation popular public opinion turned in favor of the United States.

Across Europe Lincoln and the United States was to receive laudatory messages that supported the proclamation. In Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi hailed Lincoln as “the heir of the aspirations of John Brown“. On August 6, 1863 Garibaldi wrote to Lincoln: Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure.

Areas covered by the Emancipation ProclamationAlan Van Dyke, a representative for workers from Manchester, England, wrote to Lincoln saying, “We joyfully honor you for many decisive steps toward practically exemplifying your belief in the words of your great founders: ‘All men are created free and equal.'”

Of course, not everyone was in favor of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Confederate decried it as a document that would provoke a servile rebellion, their worst fear. In the north, the Copperhead Democrats, who opposed the war and advocated restoring the union by allowing slavery, immediately opposed the proclamation.

Horatio Seymour, while running for the governorship of New York, cast the Emancipation Proclamation as a call for slaves to commit extreme acts of violence on all white southerners, saying it was “a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder, which would invoke the interference of civilized Europe.” No such events ever occurred.

It also split the War Democrats, many of whom still clung to the racist position of their party. Others saw it as a viable tool to use against the Confederate government. As the war progressed, their split increased.

The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. The ten affected states individually named were South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas and North Carolina. Not included were the Union slave states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky.

Also not named was the state of Tennessee, in which a Union-controlled military government had already been set up, based in the capital, Nashville. Specific exemptions were stated for areas also under Union control on January 1, 1863, namely 48 counties that would soon become West Virginia, seven other named counties of Virginia including Berkeley and Hampshire counties which were soon added to West Virginia, New Emancipation Day in South CarolinaOrleans and 13 named parishes nearby.

Union-occupied areas of the Confederate states where the proclamation was put into immediate effect by local commanders included Winchester, Virginia, Corinth, Mississippi, the Sea Islands along the coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia, Key West, Florida, and Port Royal, South Carolina.

Contrary to popular belief, tens of thousands of slaves were freed on January 1st, known to many as the “Day of Jubilo”. As the Union army moved farther into the south, thousands of slaves flocked to follow the armies. Many asked if “Father Abraham” was with them.

Booker T. Washington, as a boy of 9 in Virginia, remembered the day in early 1865:

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom…. Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.