Lincoln’s Conciliationist Generals

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

General Winfield ScottAt the onset of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had a serious problem. There were not very many Republicans at the higher levels of the Union Army. Most of the higher officers were Democrats. There were very few generals, a mere handful in the antebellum Army. Lincoln was concerned that the war might be seen as a Republican war rather than a war of the united North.

He solved his problem in a variety of ways, some were successful, others were utter failures. The most well-known one was his attempt through General Winfield Scott to recruit Robert E. Lee for a top command. Lee demurred and accepted the commission to command the Virginia state forces.

Other top officers in the U.S. Army left to command Confederate forces. Joseph E. Johnston was the Quartermaster General who left to command Confederate troops in the field. Albert Sidney Johnston left his command of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific in California for the eventual position as commander of the Western Department.

Many of the men who would command large formations of troops, Brigades, Divisions or Corps, had never commanded much more than a company. They learned on the job, so to speak.

At the start of the war most of the Union generals were Democrats. Some were also conciliationists. Two commanders, Brevet Lieutenant Winfield Scott and Major General George B. McClellan, personified the conciliatory policy at the beginning of the war. Both officers had many differences but on this issue they were complete agreement. They thought of the war as product of political extremism on both sides.

Throughout his military career Scott displayed tact and patience both to his troops and his adversaries. Scott advised President James Buchanan to hold the military posts in the Deep South with overwhelming force to discourage any attack by secessionists. But he was opposed to a military invasion of the South. Instead, he suggested that warships be stationed off the coast of Southern ports to collect import duties. This would establish the continued authority of the federal government.

Many of those who espoused non-confrontation believed that Unionist sentiment in the South would resurface and the seceded states would return to the Union voluntarily. Within Lincoln’s cabinet incoming Secretary of State William Seward was an adherent of conciliation.

Scott sent the following memorandum to Seward with four options for the new government to take against the South.

Hoping that, in a day or two, the new President will have, happily, passed through all personal dangers, & find himself installed an honored successor of the great Washington — with you as chief of his cabinet — I beg leave to repeat, in writing, what I have before said to you, orally, this supplement to my printed “views,” (dated October last) on the highly disordered condition of our (so late) happy & glorious union. To meet the extraordinary exigencies of the times, it seems to me that I am guilty of no arrogance in limiting the President’s field of selection to one of the four plans of procedure, subjoined: –

I. Throw off the old, & assume a new designation — the Union party; — adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace convention, & my life upon it, we shall have no new case of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many, if not a;l the states which have already broken off from the Union, without some equally benign measure, the remaining slave holding states will, probably, join the Montgomery confederacy in less than sixty days, when this city — being included in a foreign country — would require permanent Garrison of at least 35,000 troops to protect the Government within it.

II. Collect the duties on foreign goods outside the ports of which this Government has lost the command, or close such ports by acts of congress, & blockade them.

III. Conquer the seceded States by invading Armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young able General — a Wolfe, a Desaix or a Hoche, with 300,000 disciplined men — estimating a third for Garrisons, & the loss of a yet greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles & southern fevers. The destruction of life and property, on the other side, would be frightful — however perfect the moral discipline of the invaders.

The conquest completed at that enormous waste of human life, to the north and north west — with at least $250[,]000,000, added thereto, and cui bono? — Fifteen devastated provinces — not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors; but to be held, for generations, by heavy garrisons — at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes which it would be possible to extract from them — followed by a Protector or an emperor.

IV. Say to the seceded — States — wayward sisters, depart in peace!

The firing on Fort Sumter ended any hope of peaceful compromise. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion brought the secession of four more states: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Scott cast around for a new plan to bring the seceded states back into the Union with a minimum of bloodshed. The centerpiece of his Anaconda Plan was an air-tight blockade of all Southern ports. He also planned to send a strong column from Cairo, Illinois to secure the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two. Scott that these two actions would bring out the Unionists.

Seward asked the well-regarded Montgomery C. Meigs, then a captain, to draft a memorandum on the war in general and the Virginia situation in particular. Meigs endorsed Scott’s view that the government should defer action until the army was better trained.

A split developed within the Union government with Postmaster General Montgomery Blair calling for immediate action. He said that Scott’s group were overestimating the strength of the secessionists. Lincoln, meanwhile, decided on a policy of deliberation. Some Northern newspapers called for immediate action.

The First Battle of Bull Run would put an end to conciliation and any hopes of a rapid Union victory. The defeat of the Union field army led by Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell ushered in Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac. McClellan was a Democrat and a conciliationist. These two facts would impact the Union war effort in the Eastern Theater for some time.


Civil War Tactics: Infantry

This entry is part 4 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Civil War TacticsThe American Civil War began with the assumption by both sides that after just a few battles the war would end with either the Confederacy collapsing or achieving their independence. No one could have envisioned a war that lasted four years and took more than 620,000 lives.

At the start of the war both armies were manned for the most part by untrained militia. Early battles were simply clashes between armed mobs. It was by pure luck that the Confederates actually won the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. Neither side was capable of overwhelming the other side.

After the initial phase of the war, the Union government appointed Major General George B. McClellan as commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. After the consolidation of a number of Union military units, McClellan became the commander of the Army of the Potomac, the main Union Army in the Eastern Theater.

McClellan may have been timid on the battlefield but he was a genius when it came to logistics and training. He oversaw the training and equipping of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan’s army grew from 50,000 men in July 1861 to 168,000 by November and was considered by far the most colossal military unit the world had seen in modern historical times.

He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. Unfortunately, he was afraid to send his precious force into battle against the Confederates.

The tactics of early Civil War armies included maneuvering infantry units by brigades in wide battle lines. Both sides attempted to overwhelm their opponents with massed musket fire in the open field with little use of fortifications and emplacements. The most common deployment was a long “line of battle,” 2 ranks deep. More massed was the “column,” varying from 1 to 10 or more companies wide and from 8 to 20 or more ranks deep. Less compact than column or line was “open-order” deployment: a strung-out, irregular single line.

Early Civil War commanders rarely understood the effect of rifled musket fire on offensive infantry assaults. After devastating casualties at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Shiloh, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, both sides began to adapt to the new effects of firepower against infantry. Both the artillery and the cavalry were quicker to adapt their tactics to devastating firepower of new weaponry.

As the troops and their commanders became more experienced fortifications came into greater use by both sides. Most troops would quickly build light fortifications each night as a defensive measure. The Confederate defensive emplacements at Vicksburg, Port Hudson and Corinth, Mississippi were much more permanent and prevented quick assaults against these important Southern cities.

Sieges and the assault of fortified positions are probably the most complex and demanding of military operations. The foremost authority on these matters in the civil war was considered to be the French engineer, the Marquis de Vauban, who designed many European fortification systems, and organized many successful sieges of the seventeenth century. The Confederate earthworks of Port Hudson, and their use of artillery lunettes show his influence, and corresponding attacks on such systems would have benefited from his theories.

At both Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the Union forces initially attempted to rush the defensive fortifications. All of their attempts failed miserably with serious casualties. At both locations the Union attackers settled into methodical sieges.

The Siege of Vicksburg lasted from May 18, 1863 until July 4th when Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered his entire garrison of 29,495 men after 3,202 had been killed or wounded. In addition to his surrendered men, Pemberton turned over to Grant 172 cannons and 50,000 rifles. The loss of Vicksburg was a massive blow for the Confederacy.

The Siege of Port Hudson was similar to Vicksburg’s siege. It lasted from May 22 to July 9, 1863. After a number of unsuccessful and costly frontal assaults the Union attackers settled into a siege that lasted from June 15th to July 9th when the Confederate garrison of 6,500 surrendered after a loss of 1,000 killed or wounded. The Union attackers lost 5,000 killed or wounded plus an additional 5,000 men who died of disease. The surrender gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River and its major tributaries, severing communications and trade between the eastern and western states of the Confederacy.

Corinth, Mississippi, an important rail junction in northern Mississippi, was the scene of two battles. The first engagement was called the Siege of Corinth and lasted from April 29 to May 30, 1862 but the Confederates under Lt. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard withdrew before Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck’s massive 120,000 strong army could engage his 65,000-man force. Made cautious by the staggering losses at Shiloh, Halleck embarked on a tedious campaign of offensive entrenchment, fortifying after each advance, sometimes only advancing a mile or two each day.

The second engagement at Corinth took place on October 3–4, 1862. Confederate forces under Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn, numbering about 22,000, attacked Union forces emplaced in rifle pits dug by the Confederate Army in the Spring. The Union forces, numbering about 23,000, were commanded Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans.

The Union forces were able to repulse a number of frontal assaults against their fixed defenses. Rosecrans’s army lost 2,520 (355 killed, 1,841 wounded, and 324 missing) at Corinth; Van Dorn’s losses were 4,233 (473 killed, 1,997 wounded, and 1,763 captured or missing).





Union Spies: Allan Pinkerton

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Allan PinkertonNo series on Civil War spies would be complete without a profile of that most famous of American detectives, Allan Pinkerton. He was the nation’s original detective who created and used many of the methods that modern-day detectives still use. These methods include “shadowing”, disguise and surveillance.

Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1819 and became a cooper by trade. In 1842, he immigrated with his family to Dundee, Illinois where he set up his barrel-making operation. He was regarded as a business owner of impeccable credentials. Pinkerton was also a staunch abolitionist whose home became a station on the Underground Railroad.

Seeing the need for additional policemen in the rough-and-ready city of Chicago, Pinkerton joined the force of 12 policeman. He had been a police officer and detective in his native country so police work was second nature for him. He soon became the top detective in the city.

With a growing family Pinkerton formed his own detective agency in 1850. He named it the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and he designed a logo featuring an eye, wide open, with the caption, We Never Sleep. The company still exists and the open eye is still used as a logo.

Many of  these potential clients were the numerous railroads that crisscrossed Chicago. One of the railroads was the Rock Island and Illinois Central, whose president was George B. McClellan and the attorney a Springfield man named Abraham Lincoln.

Early in 1861 the Pinkerton agency was hired by the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad to protect the line from train robbers. In the course of the investigation, they discovered a plot to assassinate the new President, Abraham Lincoln, as he traveled through Baltimore to his inauguration. Pinkerton accompanied Lincoln and his personal bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, safely to Washington.

Lincoln wished to employ Pinkerton as the head of a secret service to root out spies in the Union capital but others in his administration had other candidates. While he was waiting for some resolution, Pinkerton came to the notice of General George McClellan who employed his and his agency’s services in and around Washington infiltrating the circles of southern sympathizers. Pinkerton’s team included Timothy Webster and Kate Warne.

Timothy Webster was tall, self-assured, aggressive, loyal and possessed intelligence, guts and skill. Webster would go to any length to accomplish a mission and return with information that no one else could have obtained. He became a key informant during the civil conflict.

Kate Warne, a young widow, with dark hair and a slight frame, convinced Pinkerton to hire her as an undercover detective in 1856. She had no experience in the field, but possessed a talent of ingratiating herself into a suspect’s trust. She was also, a master of disguise. Pictures may depict Kate Warne as a young Union cavalry trooper. Warne’s successful career convinced Pinkerton to hire other women agents and to promote Kate to Supervisor of Women Detectives.

Pinkerton himself assumed the role of Major E.J. Allen and for a time was attached to General McClellan’s staff. The team’s focus was to use assumedPinkerton with Lincoln and General John McClernand names, disguises and false southern sympathies to elicit vital military and clandestine motives from Confederate loyalists operating within the Union lines. In addition, the Pinkerton Detectives were to gather intelligence in the southern states of Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi.

Timothy Webster gained so much trust in southern sympathizer’s circles that he was able to travel to Richmond to verify his intelligence. It was here that he met the Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, who offered him a job as an informer. It was while he was in Richmond that his identity was unmasked by recently-released Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow. He and three associates were arrested, tried and hung as spies on April 29, 1862.

After the Battle of Antietam, General George McClellan was removed from the command of the Army of the Potomac. At the same time Pinkerton was also removed as the nation’s primary spy. Some members of the cabinet claimed that Pinkerton’s results, particularly on Confederate troop dispositions, were less than complete. The agency spent the rest of the war investigating war profiteers.

After the Civil War, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency continued to be the largest and most effective company of its kind in the United States. Pinkerton detectives were employed by a number of railroads to capture train robbers. Pinkerton chased Jesse James for years but was never able to capture him. The agency was also employed by corporations to protect them from labor unions.

Allan Pinkerton died in Chicago on July 1, 1884. At the time of his death, he was working on a system that would centralize all criminal identification records, a database now maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


A War of Missed Opportunities

Civil War MontageThe American Civil War was a war of missed opportunities. Many wars have the same type of situations but the Civil War seems to have more missed opportunities than most. As a result of them the war lasted for four long years with almost 750,000 killed and untold numbers of wounded and maimed soldiers. It was said that every town in the South had at least one amputee with many towns in the North sharing this dubious distinction.

There are many reasons for the missed opportunities. At the start of the war both armies were no better than armed mobs. The antebellum U.S. Army was tiny with about 16,000 officers and men. Some of the higher-ranking officers had served in the Mexican War but almost none in command positions. Robert E. Lee was a staff officer. James Longstreet was a lieutenant. Ulysses Grant was a quartermaster.

Not only were the men untrained but so were the majority of the officers. Regimental, brigade and division commanders were often local dignitaries and politicians. Joshua Chamberlain was a college professor. Stonewall Jackson, although an army officer, was also a college professor. George McClellan was a railroad executive. Grant was a clerk in his brother’s leather goods store. Leonidas Polk was an Episcopal bishop.

These were the men who were expected to lead mass armies in combat. It took at least a year for the commanders to learn how to command. The First Battle of Manassas was a hash for both sides and it was only by dint of leadership and some luck that the Confederate Army won the battle.

Grant’s first victory at Belmont, Missouri was only a victory because the newspapers said that it was. His soldiers were cut off and forced to retreat to their river transport with Grant being chased on one of the boats himself.

The campaign in western Virginia almost ended the career of Robert E. Lee before it began. His forces lost a number of battles and he was eventually relieved of command and assigned to coastal defense.

Once the officers and men were adequately trained, the question of tactics came into play. While weaponry had progressed apace, tactics had not. In the early war years both sides were prone to use Napoleonic tactics with units advancing in wide formations and stopping to fire massed volleys at close range. Casualties were often horrendous once the troops learned to shoot.

As rifles and the men who fired them became more accurate, soldiers on both sides began to use fortifications to defend themselves. Both sides would entrench at the merest opportunity using a combination of earth and timber. They could then carry on continuous rifle fire behind some protection. By the end of the war the siegeworks at Petersburg became the rule not the exception.

Lets look at some of the missed opportunities.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee missed more than a few chances to destroy his opposition. At Chattanooga, he wasted his best opportunity to destroy the Army of the Cumberland. He also missed opportunities at McLemore’s Cove, Cassville, Peachtree Creek and Spring Hill.

George McClellan should have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia at Antietam but refused to commit his reserves because he had over-estimated Lee’s numbers. George Meade allowed Lee to escape back into Virginia after Gettysburg with only cavalry pursuit. And at Fredericksburg, Lee never counterattacked after all of Ambrose Burnside’s assault were repulsed.

As the war went on both sides spent their men’s lives in frontal assaults at Gettysburg, Spotsylvania and at a number of battles during the Petersburg campaign. Using 18th century tactics against 19th century guaranteed high casualty lists.


What If Joseph E. Johnston Wasn’t Wounded

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Counterfactuals of the Civil War

General Joseph E. JohnstonWar is a series of totally random acts. Men are often killed or wounded because they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. On May 31, 1862 at Seven Pines, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was badly wounded when he was struck in the right shoulder by a bullet, immediately followed by a shell fragment hitting him in the chest. He fell unconscious from his horse with a broken right shoulder blade and two broken ribs and was evacuated to Richmond.

But what if Johnston had not been wounded? What if he was two feet to the left or the right and he remained in command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia? For one, Robert E. Lee would have remained in Richmond as Jefferson Davis’ military adviser. And the Confederates probably would have lost the war by mid-1862.

Joseph E. Johnston was a 55-year old career military officer at the time of the Battle of Seven Pines. A Virginia native, he had been born Longwood House in “Cherry Grove”, near Farmville on February 3, 1807. He had graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1829 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the artillery.

Johnston resigned from the Army in 1837 to study civil engineering. However, he rejoined the military the following year with the rank of first lieutenant in the topographic engineers. Johnston distinguished himself during the Mexican War and was brevetted to colonel of volunteers.

After the war he served in a variety of positions eventually being promoted to the rank of brigadier general when he was named Quartermaster-General of the Army on June 28, 1860.

At the start of the war he resigned his commission in the United States Army. At first, he was a named as a major general in the Virginia State Militia but eventually resigned and was named a brigadier general in the new Confederate Army. His first assignment was in the Shenandoah Valley where he organized the Army of the Shenandoah.

Before the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run) Johnston had moved his small army from the Shenandoah Valley across the Blue Ridge Mountains and joined the army of General P.G.T. Beauregard. He ceded the planning of the battle to the younger general since he was more familiar with the terrain. During the battle Johnston initially organized front line units and then organized the arriving reinforcements. Although Beauregard received much of the credit for the Confederate victory, Johnston’s role was just as important.

After First Manassas, Johnston was promoted to full general and given command of the  the Confederate Army of the Potomac on July 21, 1861, and the Department of Northern Virginia on October 22.

It should be mentioned that Johnston and Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a difficult relationship. Despite being classmates at West Point, Davis did not favor Johnston when it came to promotions. In fact, Davis brought Robert E. Lee to Richmond as his military adviser and began issuing direct orders to some of the forces under Johnston’s ostensible command. In point of fact, Davis considered himself the general-in-chief of the Confederate Army.

In late March 1862, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, once one of Johnston’s junior officers in the cavalry, had landed his huge Army of the Potomac at Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula. His goal was to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond from the east.

Johnston’s plan for the defense of the Confederate capital was controversial. Knowing that his army was half the size of McClellan’s and that the Union Navy could provide direct support to McClellan from either river, Johnston attempted to convince Davis and Lee that the best course would be to concentrate in fortifications around Richmond. He was unsuccessful in persuading them and deployed most of his force on the Peninsula.

Fighting delaying actions up the Virginia Peninsula at Yorktown (April 5-May 4), Williamsburg (May 5) and Eltham’s Landing (May 7), the Confederate Army found itself facing their adversaries a mere six miles from Richmond.

Johnston’s defensive line began at the James River at Drewry’s Bluff, site of the recent Confederate naval victory, and extended counterclockwise so that his center and left were behind the Chickahominy River, a natural barrier in the spring when it turned the broad plains to the east of Richmond into swamps. Johnston’s 60,000-man force burned most of the bridges over the Chickahominy and settled into strong defensive positions north and east of the city.

Facing them were the 105,000 men of the Union Army of the Potomac. Realizing that McClellan’s army was divided by the rain-swollen river, Johnston chose to attack south of the river on May 31. His plan was aggressive but too complicated for his subordinates to execute correctly, and he failed to ensure they understood his orders in detail or to supervise them closely. At this stage of the conflict many of the senior commanders on both sides had little experience maneuvering large numbers of troops.

Although the battle was inconclusive it turned out to be the high water mark of the Union offensive. Johnson was carried from the field and replaced by Lee who immediately orchestrated a series of offensive battles. Despite suffering serious losses over the course of the Seven Days Battles, the Confederates forced McClellan’s army away from their capital.

Robert E. Lee was an offensive genius, Joseph E. Johnston was not. His actions leading up to Seven Pines were clearly defensive. Considered opinion was that his forces would have been pushed back into the city and eventually would have pulled back to the west. With the loss of their capital, the Confederate government would have more than likely attempted to negotiate a graceful surrender. Remember, at the same time they were suffering serious losses in the Western Theater.

Most likely slavery would have remained and gradually been phased out with slave owner receiving monetary compensation. Lincoln proposed a plan for gradual emancipation, resettlement in Africa or somewhere in the Caribbean with monetary compensation for slave owners in 1861.




What if Lee Remained with the Union?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Counterfactuals of the Civil War

Robert E. Lee in TexasCounterfactuals of the Civil War are always interesting to explore. What if this or that had or had not happened and how it would have changed the trajectory of the conflict can be interesting ways of exploring other possible histories.

One of the key participants of the war was Robert E. Lee. His command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was a key reason why the Civil War lasted as long as it did. But what if General Lee had never joined the Confederate cause? How would that have impacted the struggle?

In the spring of 1861 Robert E. Lee was a 54-year old colonel in command of the First Regiment of Cavalry. The son of Revolutionary War hero “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, he had graduated from West Point in the class of 1829. He had served all over the United States, initially in the Corps of Engineers and later in the Cavalry.

During the Mexican War, Lee had served as a staff officer for General Winfield Scott, a fellow Virginian. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Cerro Gordo and was promoted to brevet major. He also fought at ContrerasChurubusco, and Chapultepec and was wounded at the last. By the end of the war, he had received additional brevet promotions to Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, but his permanent rank was still Captain of Engineers and he would remain a Captain until his transfer to the cavalry in 1855.

In October 1859, Lee was back in his home at Arlington, Virginia. His father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis had died in 1857 leaving a rather messy estate. Custis was the step-grandson of George Washington. Lee took several leaves of absence from the army and became a planter and eventually straightened out the estate. Part of the estate resolution was the promised emancipation of the slaves.

When news of John Brown’s attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Lee was ordered by President James Buchanan to take command of detachments of militia, soldiers, and United States Marines, to suppress the uprising and arrest its leaders. Upon his arrival, Lee demanded the surrender of Brown. When he refused, Lee ordered the successful assault and capture of Brown and his men.

We know that Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis was a Unionist based on her letters. As the step-great granddaughter of one of the founders of the country she felt that the Union was inviolate. Lee attempted to follow Washington’s example in his personal and professional life.

Lee privately ridiculed the Confederacy in letters in early 1861, denouncing secession as “revolution” and a betrayal of the efforts of the founders. Writing to his son William Fitzhugh, Lee stated, “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union.” While he was not opposed in principle to secession, Lee wanted all peaceful ways of resolving the differences between North and South—such as the Crittenden Compromise—to be tried first, and was one of the few to foresee a long and difficult war.

In late March or early April, Lee had turned a command in the Confederate Army. On April 18th, Lee turned down an offer by presidential aide Francis P. Blair to command the defense of Washington D.C. as a major general, as he feared that the job might require him to invade the South. But what if after an agonizing several days of discussion and thought, he had decided to remain with the Union?

Let’s say that Robert E. Lee had accepted Lincoln’s offer of a top command. How would it have changed history? Robert E. Lee was one of the top combat engineers in the country. In fact, he had worked on many of the coastal forts along the Atlantic coastline.

His first objective would have been securing the capital. In the real world, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, another highly skilled engineer, had created a system of defenses around Washington unequaled in the 19th century. Lee would have made absolutely sure that northern Virginia was secure for the Union in order to have an area in Virginia to marshal troops.

But would Virginia have seceded if Lee had decided to stay with the Union? Robert E. Lee was a well-known Virginian from one of Virginia’s First Families. His wife was related to the first President of the Union. It is perfectly rational to believe that Virginia may have split in three parts with northern and western Virginia remaining with the Union.

Robert E. Lee’s greatest accomplishments came on the field of battle. Without Lee, the Southern Confederacy would have had Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard as their leading commanders in the Eastern Theater. First Manassas or Bull Run might have been a rout in the other direction.

There probably would not have been a Peninsula Campaign. After a Union victory at Manassas, Lee would have knifed his huge Army of the Potomac east to Richmond. Once the Confederate capital had fallen, the entire rebellion might have collapsed, especially with a Virginian commanding the Union troops.

But what about slavery? A quick Union victory would have meant that a wartime emancipation would not have happened. More than likely, Lincoln’s idea for gradual emancipation and resettlement outside of the United States would have come to fruition. The South would not have been devastated. Slave owners would have been compensated.

The American Civil War has always been the great dividing line in American history. The country was totally changed by four years of war. We went from a mostly rural country to one that became more urbanized. Farming was the major occupation before the war while manufacturing gradually took over the American economy.

With one stroke Robert E. Lee might have changed all of that.


The End of Conciliation

This entry is part 11 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

Throughout 1861 and well into 1862 conciliation was the official policy of the Lincoln administration. The hope was that the Confederate secessionists could be returned to the Union with a minimum of blood and destruction. In fact these hopes lasted right up to the repulse of McClellan’s advance on Richmond in the early summer of 1862.

In the space of the month of July Northern newspapers went from endorsing conciliation at the beginning of the month to publishing bitter editorials by the end of the month. The Lincoln administration realizing that their policy of conciliation would not work agreed. New orders were dispatched to the Union armies that called for the confiscation of Southern property. The armies were encouraged to live off the land as they moved through the Southern countryside.

Meanwhile, the Congress was debating a new and harsher confiscation bill proposed by Sen. Lyman Trumbull (R-IL). Put forward in December 1861 and debated for six months it called for the confiscation of all property, both real and personal, of anyone living where the rebellion made ordinary judicial proceedings impossible, provided that the owner was in arms against the Government or aiding in the rebellion. It also provided for the emancipation of the convicted person’s slaves and their transportation to a colony.

Supporters of conciliation within the Congress railed against the proposed bill as an indiscriminate assault against the rights of all Southerners, loyal or rebellious. Others denounced it as unconstitutional. Many said that it was bad policy. Their argument had been heard before, claiming that  the passage of the bill would turn any Union sentiment in the South into support for the Confederacy.

The Radical Republicans were having none of these arguments and insisted that the bill must be passed but in a stronger form than Trumbull’s draft. The bill was seen more as a vehicle for the emancipation of Southern slaves than anything else. On the other hand the War Democrats saw the bill as a necessary means to put down the rebellion. Both sides did agree that it was a means to punish the “landed proprietors” who they blamed for the rebellion.

After much debate the bill was referred to a select Senate committee who modified the bill to reflect some of the constitutional concerns of the moderate Republicans. The bill mandated that property could only be confiscated after an individual was convicted of inciting or engaging in rebellion. It permitted the President to emancipate the slaves of rebels who resided in areas still under rebellion six months after the bill’s passage. It also authorized the President to enlist blacks as soldiers. The bill was then sent to the House.

In the House the bill had a rockier time  and a select committee was formed in the hopes that it could break the various deadlocks. The House select committee reported out two bills. One dealt with confiscation, the other with emancipation. The confiscation bill was rejected outright by the Senate while the emancipation bill languished while it seemed that McClellan might capture Richmond and end the war.

In the Western Theater, Union forces had sliced deep into the Confederacy and by the end of May 1862 they had captured the strategic rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. It seemed certain that with victories in both theaters the rebellion was about to be crushed. Then, the unexpected happened as it often does in war.

With the vast Union Army a mere five miles from Richmond the two armies fought a battle at Seven Pines. The Confederate commander General Joseph E. Johnston was severely wounded by shell fragments and was carried from the field. Jefferson Davis immediately appointed his military adviser General Robert E. Lee as his replacement.

The change in leadership of the Confederate Army in the field as a result of Seven Pines had a profound effect on the war. On June 24, 1862, McClellan’s massive Army of the Potomac was within 6 miles (9.7 km) of the Confederate capital of Richmond; Union soldiers wrote that they could hear church bells ringing in the city. Within 90 days, however, Robert E. Lee had driven McClellan from the Peninsula,Pope had been soundly beaten at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the battle lines were 20 miles (32 km) from the Union capital in Washington.

Despite a string of victories, McClellan continued to withdraw south to the safety of Harrison’s Landing where he was supported by the guns of the Union Navy. It was here that he met with Lincoln and delivered to him a letter outlining his views on conciliation. But Lincoln simply ignored his letter and turned instead to military matters.

The President realized that the window for conciliation was rapidly closing and that the war had moved beyond that approach. The two houses of Congress finally came to a compromise agreement and presented the President with the bill which he signed on July 17, 1862. The bill because of its requirement that confiscation cases be tried in court did not severely damage the Southern economy.

However, it did accomplish two goals. It punished the Southern aristocracy who the Union Congress viewed as the ones who started the war. It was blow against slavery with its emancipation provisions. Most importantly, it signaled both the Southerners and the Union Army that the official policy of conciliation was ended.




Henry W. Halleck and The Union’s Pragmatic Policy

This entry is part 9 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

General Henry W. HalleckThe chief proponent of the Union’s pragmatic policy was Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the Union commander of the key western Department of the Missouri. Halleck, known in the Army as “Old Brains” for his brilliance, had left the military in order to pursue more lucrative opportunities in law and business. He settled in California where he became a wealthy man as a lawyer and land speculator.

Halleck was a Democrat and was sympathetic to the South but was a strong Unionist. With a strong recommendation from General-in-Chief Winfield Scott he was appointed as the four most senior general after Scott, George B. McClellan, and John C. Frémont in August 1861. By November, he was named commander of the Department of the Missouri replacing Frémont.

Halleck’s initial orders from George McClellan who had succeeded Scott at about the same time were quite conservative. He was required “to impress upon the inhabitants of Missouri and the adjacent states, that we are fighting solely for the integrity of the Union, to uphold the power of our National Government, and restore to the nation the blessings of peace and good order.”

Halleck’s General Order No. 3 barred fugitive slaves from his lines. General Order No. 8 expressed his severe disapproval for numerous cases of “alleged seizure and destruction of private property.” According to Halleck this showed “an outrageous abuse of power and violation of the rules of war.” Halleck cautioned his area commanders to use restraint in the seizure of property from active rebels.

However, Halleck’s resolve would only last a few weeks. The constant attacks by Confederates and guerrillas against Unionists in Missouri forced him to change his policy. Thousands of Unionist refugees were streaming into St. Louis and they began demanding a response. Halleck collected the large sum of $11,000 from St. Louis secessionists in order to provide relief for the Unionist refugees.

Halleck announced to his troops, “Peace and war cannot exist together.” Halleck declared the need for retribution against bushwackers then secessionists must pay a price for these acts of violence. However, Halleck was against military actions that went beyond the scope of legitimate reprisals. He ion fact agreed with Confederate General Sterling Price that certain Union elements along the Missouri-Kansas border were carrying out attacks that were outside of the rules of war.

It was from these beginnings that the Union’s pragmatic policy began to take shape. Adherents to this pragmatic policy believed that the war had to be won militarily rather than those who saw the possibility of using civilian morale against the Confederacy. They did not see a large role for civilian morale in the war. They supported Unionists, punished secessionists and expected the remaining population to remain quiescent.

With this policy in place Halleck unleashed his forces into the interior of the Confederacy. He ordered a two-pronged assault led by Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis whose force embarked from Springfield, Missouri and defeated the Confederates in March 1862 at Pea Ridge. The Union force was outnumbered by their adversaries but nevertheless carried the day. The Union victory cemented their control over Missouri and northern Arkansas.

The second prong of the offensive was led by Ulysses S. Grant with a combined army-navy force that set off from Cairo, Illinois. Sailing up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, Grant captured Forts Henry and Donelson, the twin linchpins of the Confederates in Tennessee.

Missouri continued to see guerrilla warfare and retribution from both sides throughout the war but it increasingly became a backwater in the Western Theater. However, the policy that began there was carried by Union forces under Halleck as they moved from western Tennessee into northern Mississippi.





1862: The End of Conciliation in the East

This entry is part 4 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

Map of US with divisionsWhile 1861 same several attempts to settle the war without shedding an ocean of blood, 1862 would see the gradual descent of the war into a bitter conflict on both sides. In order to understand this period we’ll look at the war from various perspectives. This post will cover the Eastern Theater.

After the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run as the losing Union side named it, both sides began a gradual feeling-out process that was the antithesis of the later total war waged by both sides. The reality of First Manassas convinced both sides that their armies were no more than armed mobs. Both armies were deficient in training, leadership and even uniforms.

Both sides had uniforms that in some cases caused confusion on the battlefield. There were Confederate units with blue uniforms and Union units with a sort of blue/gray uniform. Some of the uniforms were garish and impractical like the Zouave uniforms worn by units on both sides. Even the early Confederate battle flags caused confusion because of their similarity to Old Glory.

Both armies in the Eastern Theater spent the fall and winter reorganizing, training and equipping their troops. In the Western Theater there were tentative probes down the Mississippi River and into Kentucky which had tried to remain neutral.

Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant would make his first major foray from his base at Cairo, Illinois on November 7, 1861. The Battle of Belmont would see a limited clash of arms on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River with limited aims and a small loss of life.

In the Eastern Theater there were several engagements at the edges of the conflict but Maj. Gen. George McClellan refused to be pushed into major combat before he felt that his massive Army of the Potomac was ready to advance. By the end of 1861, McClellan had fortified Washington into one of the most defended cities in the world with 48 forts, 480 guns and 7,200 artillerymen.

The Army of the Potomac, McClellan’s chosen weapon of “shock and awe” had grown to over 190,000 men, the largest army ever assembled on the North American continent. It was was considered by far the most colossal military unit the world had seen in modern historical times. But McClellan wanted more. He envisioned an army of 273,000 with 600 guns to “crush the rebels in one campaign.”

McClellan continually overestimated the numbers of enemy troops that were facing him in the Washington area. On August 8, believing that the Confederates had over 100,000 troops facing him (in contrast to the 35,000 they actually deployed at Bull Run a few weeks earlier), he declared a state of emergency in the capital.

By August 19, he estimated 150,000 enemy to his front. McClellan’s future campaigns would be strongly influenced by the overblown enemy strength estimates of his secret service chief, detective Allan Pinkerton, but in August 1861, these estimates were entirely McClellan’s own.

The result was a level of extreme caution that sapped the initiative of McClellan’s army and caused great condemnation by his government. Historian and biographer Stephen W. Sears has called McClellan’s actions “essentially sound” if he had been as outnumbered as he believed, but McClellan in fact rarely had less than a two-to-one advantage over his opponents in 1861 and 1862. That fall, for example, Confederate forces ranged from 35,000 to 60,000, whereas the Army of the Potomac in September numbered 122,000 men; in early December 170,000; by year end, 192,000.

Eventually after much debate and arguments between McClellan and the Lincoln government, the Army of the Potomac was transported to the tip of the Peninsula where they began a slow advance northwest to their ultimate goal of Richmond. From the siege of Yorktown to Malvern Hill, McClellan and first, Joseph E. Johnston and then Robert E. Lee slugged it out over a four-month period. Eventually, the Confederates deflected the huge Union army from its goal.

While McClellan was left idle at Harrison’s Landing, Lee turned and thrashed Maj. Gen. John Pope at Second Manassas. He then turned north and headed into Maryland where Lee and McClellan met in the bloodiest one-day battle of the war at Antietam. After a bloodletting that caused almost 23,000 casualties, McClellan was relieved of command and replaced by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.

With the departure of McClellan the war in the Eastern Theater began a slide to total war. Burnside’s first major battle was at Frederickburg on the Rappahannock River. The Union artillery preparation for the crossing of the river would destroy a large part of the town.

Union cavalry units were sent into the Virginia countryside to seize food and fodder thus denying it to the Confederates. This would establish a pattern for both armies to prey upon the civilian populations. The Confederate cavalry would do the same in Maryland and later Pennsylvania.


Lincoln’s Democrat Generals

George B. McClellan in 1861Some historians have put forward a theory that the Union generals of the early war were lenient in prosecuting the war due to their political leanings. Abraham Lincoln in an effort to garner support for the war appointed a significant number of Democrats as major generals of volunteers at the start of the war.

The most important reason for appointing political generals was to appease important blocs of voters. President Abraham Lincoln used such appointments as a way to get the support of moderate Democrats for the war and for his administration (“War Democrats“). The first three volunteer generals Lincoln appointed, (John Adams DixNathaniel Prentice Banks and Benjamin F. Butler) were all Democrats, and therefore these three officers were the most senior major generals in the Union Army. Republicans were also appointed including Richard James Oglesby of Illinois.

John Adams Dix was a New York politician who had served in the Senate and as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan for less than two months in 1861. He is best known for the telegram that he sent to all Treasury agents in New Orleans. “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” Although the telegram was intercepted by Confederates, and was never delivered, the text found its way to the press, and Dix became one of the first heroes of the North during the Civil War.

Dix was the most senior major general of volunteers in the Union Army because his was the first appointment. He served in a variety of commands in the Eastern Theater. He is best known for the Dix-Hill Cartel for the exchange of prisoners of war.

Nathaniel Prentice Banks was a Massachusetts politician who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives as both a Member and then as Speaker. He left the House and ran for the governorship which he won. He was the second major general of volunteers to be appointed by Lincoln. During his career, Banks held commands in Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley and the Department of the Gulf.

He had the bad fortune to have to face Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley during his memorable Valley Campaign of 1862. Jackson bested Banks at Winchester and later at Cedar Mountain.In the South, Banks commanded at the Siege of Port Hudson and on the Red River Campaign.

Benjamin Butler was the third ranking major general of volunteers appointed by Lincoln. His policies regarding slaves as contraband so they could have freedom, his administration of occupied New Orleans, his ineffectual leadership in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, and the fiasco of Fort Fisher rank him as one of the most controversial political generals of the war. Butler was the first Eastern Union General to declare runaway Virginia slaves “contraband of war”; refusing to return them to their masters.

Then we have the most famous of the Democrat Union generals, George B. McClellan. After the disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run in July 1861, McClellan was ordered from his post in western Virginia to take command of the Washington defenses. Based on two somewhat minor victories he was feted by the New York Herald as “…the Napoleon of the Present War.”

On May 14th, McClellan at 34 had been promoted to major general in the Regular Army, outranking everyone but Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott. Carl Sandburg wrote, “McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion.” He was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington.

On August 20th after consolidating a number of Union formations he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander. McClellan considered himself the savior of his country. In a letter to his wife he wrote, “I seem to have become the power of the land.”

McClellan immediately went about reorganizing the Army of the Potomac as a superb fighting force. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. From July to November, the army grew from 50,000 to 168,000 men, a stupendous number for the 19th century.

McClellan was a superb logistics officer who understood the use of rail and steamboat transportation in war. However, he never seemed willing to throw his army into the fires of war. Some would say that he loved it too much to risk it in combat. Others whispered that McClellan was among the Union commanders who wished for conciliation with the South on the conditions that prevailed at the start of the war.

McClellan delivered a memorandum to Lincoln on August 2nd which was read to the Cabinet the following day. In it the general seemed to follow Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. He felt that it was necessary “to display such an overwhelming strength, as will convince all our antagonists…of the utter impossibility of resistance.”

McClellan detailed his military grand strategy calling for attacks down the Mississippi, into Missouri, through East Tennessee into Kentucky and into West Texas. Other Union forces would maintain their hold on western Virginia and Fort Monroe. He also alluded to a substantial amphibious forces for attacks along the Southern coastline.

All of this was to be in support of a massive offensive against the Confederate capital of Richmond which would be followed by a thrust deep into the Deep South. McClellan called for a massive army of 273,000 troops with 600 pieces of artillery. This force would have been 20 times the size of the army that captured Mexico City in 1847.

McClellan had two objectives with his strategy. First, he hoped to detach the bulk of the Southern people from their presumably weak loyalty to the “political leaders of the rebels.” His second objective was to convince the “governing aristocratic class” that resistance was futile. In order to be successful with the first objective there could be no more Union defeats. At the same time he felt that a lenient policy of prosecuting the war was necessary in order not to alienate the Southern population.

Part of this lenient policy required the Union Army “to crush the rebels in one campaign” according to a letter that he wrote to his wife on the same day as he wrote the memorandum to Lincoln. He ordered his troops to rigorously respect private property, including slaves, and crush any attempt at a slave insurrection. These were the same orders that he gave his troops in Western Virginia.

However, McClellan could not be moved. Throughout the late and into the fall the Army of the Potomac continued to train while McClellan engaged in a bureaucratic struggle with Winfield Scott. Eventually Scott became so worn out with the struggle that he resigned as General-in-Chief. McClellan was appointed in his place and when he did he pressed his conciliatory views on each of the Union Army’s major commanders.