The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part Two)

This entry is part 4 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

George B. McClellan in 1861-The Eastern Theater: Graveyard of Generals (Part Two)After Irvin McDowell’s defeat in the First Battle of Manassas, the Lincoln government took several actions. The most important decision in the near-long term was the recall and promotion of Maj. Gen. George McClellan to command the newly forming Army of the Potomac in the Eastern Theater.

McClellan had been trumpeted by the newspaper for several small victories over the Confederates at the Battle of Philippi (which came to be known as the ‘Philippi Races’ after the Confederates fled) and the Battle of Rich Mountain. His opponent at the latter was General Robert E. Lee who had such a lackluster performance that he was relieved of command and transferred to the North Carolina coast to supervise the building of fortifications.

McClellan was the most successful failure as a general ever to serve in the Eastern Theater. He was a superb organizer and trained the new Army of the Potomac its peak yet he was a timid field commander. He was one of a number of generals who believed in conciliation with the Confederates. McClellan had been a Democrat before the war and did not hold the abolitionist of say Maj. Gen. David Hunter who was known as ‘Black Dave’ for his views on abolition.

George McClellan’s other major contribution to the Union war effort was his supervision of the building of Washington’s defenses. When they were  complete the nation’s capital was the most heavily defended city in the world. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists.

McClellan was finally prodded into action in early March 1862. He was relieved of his position as general-in-chief in order to devote his full attentions to the coming Peninsula campaign. Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a War Board of officers assumed command of the Union armies for the next four months.

McClellan’s huge army landed at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula and immediately spent built up resources for a siege at Yorktown. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston ordered his forces to withdraw as soon as it became apparent that they would be overwhelmed by the Union Army. The entire month of May was spent in the same fashion with the Confederates grudgingly retreating up the Peninsula.

The two forces finally came to a halt along the Chickahominy River and fought the  Battle of Seven Pines (also known as the Battle of Fair Oaks), fought on May 31 – June 1, 1862. Although the battle was inconclusive two important strategic effects resulted; both were in favor of the Confederacy. General Johnston was severely wounded and replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee.

Second, General McClellan chose to abandon his offensive operations to lay siege and await reinforcements he had requested from President Lincoln; as a consequence, he never regained his strategic momentum. The two armies fought seven battles in seven days from June 25th to July 1st.

The cost to both sides was high. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered almost 20,000 casualties out of a total of over 90,000 soldiers during the Seven Days, McClellan almost 16,000 out of 105,445. The Army of the Potomac’s offensive strength had been blunted by the Confederates and he withdrew to Harrison’s Landing on the James River. Northern morale was crushed while the South reveled in Lee’s successes.

The Union government appointed John Pope to command the newly formed Army of Virginia. Pope had achieved some success in the Western Theater, and Lincoln sought a more aggressive general than McClellan. Pope’s force numbered some 50,000 men amid three corps. Pope’s mission had two objectives: protect Washington and the Shenandoah Valley, and draw Confederate forces away from McClellan by moving in the direction of Gordonsville.

Lee’s Northern Virginia campaign was a triumph with the Army of Northern Virginia defeating the Army of Virginia at the Second Battle of Manassas from August 28th to August 30th. Despite the three corps that had been transferred from McClellan’s Army of the Potomac Pope’s army was crushed by the Confederates. Unlike the First Battle of Manassas, the Union army retreated in somewhat good order.

At the Battle of Chantilly the Union army suffered a grievous loss when two of its generals, Isaac Stevens and Philip Kearny, were killed during the fighting. Pope ordered his army to retreat back to the Washington defenses. Pope was relieved of command on September 13th and his army was merged with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.  He spent the remainder of the war in the Department of the Northwest in Minnesota.

Brigadier General Alpheus S. Williams, who served briefly under Pope, held the general in particularly low esteem. In a letter to his daughter, he wrote:

“All this is the sequence of Gen. Pope’s high sounding manifestoes. His pompous orders . . . greatly disgusted his army from the first. When a general boasts that he will look only on the backs of his enemies, that he takes no care for lines of retreat or bases of supplies; when, in short, from a snug hotel in Washington he issues after-dinner orders to gratify public taste and his own self-esteem, anyone may confidently look for results such as have followed the bungling management of his last campaign….I dare not trust myself to speak of this commander as I feel and believe. Suffice it to say (for your eye alone) that more insolence, superciliousness, ignorance, and pretentiousness were never combined in one man. It can with truth be said of him that he had not a friend in his command from the smallest drummer boy to the highest general officer. All hated him.”

McClellan was once more perceived as the savior of the nation but Lincoln’s cabinet thought differently. A majority of them signed a petition declaring to the president “our deliberate opinion that, at this time, it is not safe to entrust to Major General McClellan the command of any Army of the United States.”

The president admitted that it was like “curing the bite with the hair of the dog.” But Lincoln told his secretary, 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.”

McClellan was immediately thrust into a crisis when Lee moved from Manassas across the Potomac into Maryland. Lee’s goal was to penetrate the major Northern states of Maryland and Pennsylvania and cut off the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad line that supplied Washington. He also needed to supply his army and knew the farms of the North had been untouched by war, unlike those in Virginia.

McClellan organized a pursuit of the smaller Confederate army. Then, he experienced an incredible stroke of luck when Union soldiers discovered Lee’s orders to the commanders of his army. General Order Number 191 indicated that Lee had divided his army, making it possible to be defeated in detail. McClellan waited 18 hours before deciding to take advantage of this intelligence, a delay that almost squandered his opportunity.

On September 14th McClellan’s forces defeated the Confederates at the Battle of South Mountain and pushed through to confront Lee along Antietam Creek. Meanwhile, Lee frantically moved to concentrate his army. The two armies met on September 17th east of Sharpsburg, Maryland in the Battle of Antietam.

The two armies fought the bloodiest single-day engagement of the war along the banks of the creek and in the surrounding farm fields. After twelve hours of inconclusive combat during which over 23,000 casualties were sustained by both armies, the Confederates disengaged and retreated back to Virginia.

McClellan’s performance was criticized on a number of fronts. During the battle, he never took control of his forces. Rather he allowed the field commanders to proceed according to the pre-battle plan. He never sent in his reserves, some say that Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter cautioned him that they were the last reserves of the army. Finally, with Lee’s Army in retreat he did not order any pursuit.

On November 25, 1862, Fitz John Porter was arrested and court-martialed for his actions at Second Bull Run. By this time, McClellan had been relieved by Lincoln and could not provide political cover for his protégé. Porter’s association with the disgraced McClellan and his open criticism of Pope were significant reasons for his conviction at court-martial. Porter was found guilty on January 10, 1863, of disobedience and misconduct, and he was dismissed from the Army on January 21, 1863.

George McClellan was relieved by Abraham Lincoln on November 7th. From September 17 to October 26, despite repeated entreaties from the War Department and the president himself, McClellan declined to pursue Lee across the Potomac, citing shortages of equipment and the fear of overextending his forces.

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.” He never held another position during the war.



The Last Campaign of the Army of Tennessee (Part One)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Confederate Surrenders

General Joseph E. JohnstonContrary to popular belief the American Civil War did not end with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. In fact, the war did not end with a bang but rather it ended with no less than five surrenders that stretched from Appomattox to Galveston.The second surrender was that of the Army of Tennessee by General Joseph E. Johnston at Bennett Place near Durham Station, North Carolina.

Joseph Johnston resumed command of the Army of Tennessee on February 25, 1865. He had been relieved by Jefferson Davis of the very same army on July 17, 1864. Johnston may not have been the most daring commander of the war but he didn’t throw away his soldiers like his successor John Bell Hood.

He was given command of two military departments: the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia; he assumed command of the latter department on March 6.

These commands included three Confederate field armies, including the remnants of the once formidable Army of Tennessee, but they were armies in name only. The Tennessee army had been severely depleted at Franklin and Nashville, lacked sufficient supplies and ammunition, and the men had not been paid for months; only about 6,600 traveled to South Carolina. Johnston also had available 12,000 men under William J. Hardee, who had been unsuccessfully attempting to resist Sherman’s advance, Braxton Bragg’s force in Wilmington, North Carolina, and 6,000 cavalrymen under Wade Hampton.

Facing him were the armies of General William Tecumseh Sherman who had defeated him at Atlanta and was responsible for his subsequent firing by Davis. After The March to the Sea and the successful capture of the port of Savannah, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman set out on his final march: the Carolinas Campaign. His goal was to link up with the armies of General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant around the besieged city of Petersburg. Sherman’s army would close the back door of a possible escape for the Army of Northern Virginia.

Sherman had reconfigured his force into three wings.  The Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, the Army of the Ohio under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, and two corps, General William T. Shermanthe XIV and XX, under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, which was later formally designated the Army of Georgia, comprised his command. Reinforcements arrived regularly during his march north, and by April 1 he commanded 88,948 men.

The Confederate forces opposing Sherman’s veteran formations would be unable to do anything but slow him down in local fighting. They were unable to stand up to the vastly superior Union force. It does them credit that they even made the attempt, testifying to their courage and determination to defend their home states.

Sherman divided his army into separate columns as he did on the March to the Sea. In this way he hoped to confuse the Confederate defenders as to his initial objective which was Columbia, South Carolina. At the start of the campaign the wings commanded by Slocum and Howard set off by land from Savannah. Slocum was to the west of Howard and protected his left flank from the Confederate armies that hovered along their route. Schofield’s force was to join them for the North Carolina phase of the campaign.

Sherman’s plan was to bypass the minor Confederate troop concentrations at Augusta, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and reach Goldsboro, North Carolina (also spelled Goldsborough), by March 15. The town was a major rail junction and because of that, Goldsboro played a significant role, both for stationing Confederate troops and for transporting their supplies. The town also provided hospitals for soldiers wounded in nearby battles.

As Sherman’s force moved north their goal of destroying the Confederacy’s base of supplies became clearer. If Sherman made Georgia howl, as he had promised, South Carolina was punished as a nest of traitors. Their advance on the state capital of Columbia had a clear reason. For many Union soldiers it was a matter of personal vengeance. A Federal soldier said to his comrades, “Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it will end!” The Union forces set out from Savannah at the end of January. The march through the Carolinas would be for 425 miles and take 50 days.

On February 17th Sherman accepted the surrender of Columbia after General Wade Hampton’s cavalry withdrew from the city. The victorious Union troops were overwhelmed by throngs of liberated Federal prisoners and emancipated African Americans.

The Union troops consumed the ample supplies of liquor in the city. Fires were started and the high winds spread the flames throughout the center of Columbia. Most of the central city was destroyed, and the city’s fire companies found it difficult to operate in conjunction with the invading Union army, many of whom were also trying to put out the fires.

The Burning of Columbia, SCThe burning of Columbia has been a divisive issue ever since. Sherman said that his troops did not burn the city but he wasn’t sorry that it happened. On the following day, Union troops finished the job by destroying virtually anything of military value in Columbia, including railroad depots, warehouses, arsenals, and machine shops.

Meanwhile, along the North Carolina coast, the city of Wilmington, the Confederacy’s last ocean port fell on February 22nd to Union troops under Maj. Gen. Jacob Cox. The city fell about a month after the fall of Fort Fisher. This freed Maj. Gen. John Schofield to join Sherman’s army for the final push in North Carolina. The Union armies in North Carolina planned a converging attack on the key rail junction of Goldsboro (also spelled Goldsborough).

The first battle took place on March 7, 1865 at what became known as Wyse Fork. Confederate General Braxton Bragg commanded 8,500 men who were entrenched along Southwest Creek near Kinston, North Carolina. Bragg has positioned his force not only to block Cox’s force of 12,000 but also to threaten a vital cross road and the New Bern-Goldsboro Railroad.

Cox understood the importance of the position and moved forward the divisions of Brig. Gen. Innis N. Palmer to protect the railroad and Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Carter to protect the roads. Bragg’s forces were also reinforced by veterans from the Army of Tennessee and the North Carolina Junior Reserves, all under the command of General D.H. Hill.

Reinforced, Bragg went on the offensive and sent a division under North Carolina native Robert Hoke into the Union left flank. Hoke’s attack hit a New England brigade in Carter’s division, capturing an entire regiment. Hill joined the advance with the Junior Reserves but they panicked and refused to go any further. Hill left them behind and moved on with his veterans, hitting the Union brigade and defeating it.

Disaster threatened the Union flank when Bragg stopped Hill’s advance and sent him far to the north to counterattack a Union threat. When Hill arrived he found no Federals in sight. At this time Cox, who had been away from the front lines, returned and moved up his reserve division under Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger to plug the gap between Palmer and Carter.

On March 10th, Hoke again threatened a flank attack but this time the Union forces were prepared for it with artillery and repulsed it within an hour. Hill attempted an attack against the Union center but it to was repulsed by the strong Union artillery. Meanwhile, the remaining elements of the XXIII Corps had arrived from Wilmington and Bragg order a general withdrawal. Once all of the Union forces arrived they then began to move on Goldsboro.

The Battle of Wyse Fork is considered a Union victory because they held the field. Total Union casualties were 1,101 while Confederates sustained 1,500 total casualties. This was a minor battle but it proved to both sides that the Confederates were still capable of offensive maneuvering. It is considered the second-largest land battle to be fought in North Carolina.

Like many battles in the American Civil War, the Battle of Monroe’s Crossing has several names. It is alternately known as the Battle of Fayetteville Road. The most interesting name given to this engagement is Kilpatrick’s Shirttail Skedaddle. It is also known as the Battle of Kilpatrick’s Pants.

The Union cavalry commander on the scene was Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick. He was a dashing cavalry officers in the mold of his West Point classmate, George Armstrong Custer. The 28-year old Kilpatrick had the distinction of being the first United States Army officer to be wounded in the Civil War, struck in the thigh by canister fire while leading a company at the Battle of Big Bethel, June 10, 1861.

Kilpatrick had camped his division at Monroe’s Crossing, in Cumberland County, North Carolina. His force of 1,850 men had set up a poorly guarded camp with many of the troopers sleeping. Kilpatrick himself was was in bed with a young Southern woman he had met while going through Columbia.

The Confederate force of 3,000 cavalrymen consisted of  Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton‘s and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler‘s Divisions, who were joined together for the first time. One of there objectives was the capture of Kilpatrick himself. They had selected a squad of troopers for this task. Kilpatrick managed to flee the chaotic scene in his nightshirt, hiding for a period in a nearby swamp before regaining his composure and reorganizing his troops.

The Union cavalry was initially routed but quickly recovered and counterattacked. They eventually forced the Confederate cavalrymen to withdraw from their camp, recovering all of their captured equipment and supplies. THe Union force sustained 183 total casualties, while the Confederate had 80 casualties.

The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads gained the additional time needed for the Confederate infantry to conduct an organized crossing of the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville unmolested by the advancing Federals. With their troops and equipment east of the Cape Fear, the Confederates burned the bridges as Union forces entered the city.

Map of the Carolinas Campaign






Surrender at Bennett Place

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The Carolinas Campaign

The final chapter in the Carolinas Campaign and coincidentally in the Civil War in the East took place at Bennet Place (also known as Bennett Farm), near Durham, North Carolina over the space of ten days in mid to late April 1865.

After the Battle of Bentonville which took place in eastern North Carolina from March 19th to the 26th, the defeated Confederate Army of the South retreated to Raleigh, the North Carolina State Capital. Unable to secure the city, Lt. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston ordered his army further west to Greensboro.

Bennett Place Historic SiteBy April 13th, Confederate cavalry under Generals Wade Hampton III and Joseph Wheeler clashed with Union cavalry commanded by General Judson Kilpatrick in the area of Morrisville, North Carolina, about 20 miles south of Durham. The Confederate force was frantically trying to transport their remaining supplies and wounded by rail westward toward the final Confederate encampment in Greensboro.

Kilpatrick, an aggressive young commander, used artillery on the heights overlooking Morrisville Station and cavalry charges to push the Confederates out of the small village leaving many needed supplies behind. However, the trains were able to withdraw by the 15th with wounded soldiers from the Battle of Bentonville and the Battle of Averasboro.

After the engagement at Morrisville, Johnston sent a messenger through the Union lines with a message for Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, the Union Army Group commander. In it Johnston requested a meeting with Sherman in order to discuss a truce between the armies.

Johnston had met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis who wished to continue the struggle, even to disbanding the army and continuing with guerrilla warfare. It is believed that Johnston, like Robert E. Lee, was not interested in fighting on under that basis. Both men felt that the South would suffer greater if that occurred.

The two men met at Bennett Place on April 17th. Johnston was escorted by a detachment of about 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment, traveled east along the Hillsborough Road toward Durham Station. This unit had been in near continuous combat since June of 1862.

Sherman road west from Morrisville with an escort of about 200 cavalrymen from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. Like their Southern counterparts, the Union units all had a long list of battles fought both in the Eastern and the Western Theaters.

The two generals met near the farm of James and Nancy Bennett. It being the most convenient place with the most privacy, the two men availed First meeting between Joesph Johnston and William Shermanthemselves of the Bennett’s hospitality and sat down to discuss a truce.

James and Nancy Bennett were like many families who suffered tremendously during the four years of war. They lost three sons: Lorenzo, who served in the 27th North Carolina, buried in Winchester, Virginia; Alphonzo, who is currently unaccounted for in the family history; and their daughter Eliza’s husband, Robert Duke, who died in a Confederate Army hospital and is buried in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The first day’s discussion (April 17) was intensified by the telegram Sherman handed to Johnston, informing of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. They met the following day, April 18, and signed terms of surrender. Unfortunately, they were not only more generous than those that General Grant gave to General Lee but they also included non-military conditions that were not under the purview of a purely military surrender.

Sherman’s original terms matched those of that Grant gave to Lee but Johnston, influenced by President Davis, pressed him for political terms, including the reestablishment of state governments after the war. The authorities in Washington immediately rejected them. Sherman notified Johnston that the truce would expire on the 26th if there was no formal surrender in the interim.

Johnston responded by agreeing to the purely military terms and signed the surrender document on April 26th. The surrender disbanded all active Confederate forces in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, totaling 89,270 soldiers, the largest group to surrender during the war.

After the surrender, Sherman issued ten days’ rations to the hungry Confederate soldiers, as well as horses and mules for them to “insure a crop.” He also ordered distribution of corn, meal, and flour to civilians throughout the South. This was an act of generosity that Johnston would never forget; he wrote to Sherman that his attitude “reconciles me to what I have previously regarded as the misfortune of my life, that of having you to encounter in the field.”





The Armies of the Confederacy in May 1864

This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Battle Flag of the ConfederacyAs both sides braced themselves for combat across the South, the Armies of the Confederacy appeared to be relegated to a defensive posture with occasional flashes of offense. President Jefferson Davis, always hands-on constantly meddled in the military affairs of the Confederacy, particularly in the Western Theater. Davis who was a West Point graduate and a former Secretary of War considered himself on a par with most of his generals in military knowledge.

In the Western Theater the Confederate Army of Tennessee was totally overmatched against the Union Army of the Tennessee. At the start of the Atlanta Campaign General Joseph E. Johnston commanded the Confederates. His command was outnumbered by almost 2-to-1. Johnston was a cautious commander who continually put his army in a defensive posture. But Sherman was an aggressive general who constantly maneuvered around the Confederate flanks in order to advance on Atlanta.

The four corps in the 50,000-man army were commanded by:

Further south the Union Army of the Gulf, commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, had approximately 30,000 men. They were opposed ACW Western Theater Overviewby Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor with a force that varied from 6,000 to 15,000. The Red River Campaign which had started on March 10th would continue to May 22nd and resulted in a Confederate victory.

This campaign was planned by then-Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, and a diversion from Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant‘s plan to surround the main Confederate armies by using Banks’s Army of the Gulf to capture Mobile, Alabama. Mobile would be captured in August with a joint Navy-Army campaign.

Click image to enlarge 

Meanwhile, in the Shenandoah Valley Maj. Gen. Franz Siegal had been ordered by Grant to drive south to Lynchburg, an important rail center, secure the Valley and threaten Lee’s flank. By doing so the Union forces would also cut off Lee’s army from the rich agricultural resources of the Valley. Siegal was given 10,000 men to accomplish his tasks.

Opposing him was a smaller force of approximately 4,000 commanded by Major General John C. Breckinridge. His command consisted of two infantry brigades under John C. Echols and Gabriel C. Wharton, a cavalry brigade commanded by John D. Imboden, and other independent commands. This included the cadet corps of VMI, which had an infantry battalion of 247 cadets commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Scott Ship and a two gun artillery section.

Within a month Lee would send Lt. Gen. Jubal Anderson Early and additional troops that increased the Army of the Valley District to approximately 14,000 men.

The main Confederate army in the Eastern Theater was Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. By May of 1864 Lee’s army had seen the bulk of the fighting in the east as had their opponent, the Army of the Potomac. By now both armies had weeded out the incompetent officers, the shirkers and the deserters. Both formations were composed of superb veteran formations who were fully prepared for the final battles of the war.

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia comprised about 64,000 men and 274 guns and was organized into four corps:

Jubal Early, as noted above, would be sent to the Shenandoah Valley with reinforcements in June of 1864. He would conduct a campaign from that time until the early fall. Early’s invasion of the North got as far as the gates of Washington. Grant responded by dispatching Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to the Valley. At times outnumbering the Confederates three to one, Sheridan defeated Early in three battles, starting in early August, and laid waste to much of the agricultural properties in the Valley, an event that is still remembered today as “The Burning.”

Overland Campaign MapThe Confederacy had state militias throughout the South. As the war proceeded state governors were reluctant to send additional troops to the main Confederate armies. Instead, they tended to retain their militia formations to maintain order and defend their home grounds. This reluctance to supply the main Confederate armies with replacements contributed to their attrition in battle.

Click image to enlarge

The Confederacy had a number of additional formations, particularly in the Trans-Mississippi region, but they did not have a substantial impact on the fighting. They also recruited native Americans in the West among the Choctaw and Cherokees. The most prominent among the native Americans were Stand Watie, a Choctaw, and Jackson McCurtain, a Cherokee. Stand Watie rose to the rank of brigadier general.



George McClellan and the Plan for the 1862 Richmond Offensive

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Command Decisions

General George McClellanMaj. Gen. George B. McClellan was greeted as the savior of the Union when he was promoted to General-in-chief on November 1, 1861. He replaced Winfield Scott who was 75 to McClellan’s almost 35. When Lincoln expressed his concern about the “vast labor” involved in the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief, but McClellan responded, “I can do it all.”

His life up to now was an unbroken success. McClellan was a brilliant engineer who had graduated second in his class from West Point. He served bravely in the Mexican War, receiving two brevet promotions to captain. During the war he learned the value of flanking operations and how to conduct siege warfare.

After the excitement of the war McClellan returned to the more sedate life of a peacetime military officer. In his case he served on an expedition to discover the source of the Red River. He was on a survey team that explored for passages through the Rocky Mountains. Returning to the East he courted and married Mary Ellen Marcy. McClellan’s was one of nine proposals that she received.

Secretary of War Jefferson Davis sent McClellan on a secret mission to scout the Dominican Republic. After that assignment he was dispatched to the Crimea as an official observer of the Crimean War. He observed the Siege of Sevastopol in 1856. Returning to the United States, McClellan wrote a lengthy report on the war but like most of the observers failed to highlight the importance of the new rifled musket.

He also wrote a manual on cavalry tactics based on his observations. He also proposed the adoption of a new saddle design that came to be know as the McClellan saddle. It is still in use today.

McClellan resigned his commission January 16, 1857, and, capitalizing on his experience with railroad assessment, became chief engineer and vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad and also president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in 1860. He performed well in both jobs, expanding the Illinois Central toward New Orleans and helping the Ohio and Mississippi recover from the Panic of 1857.

At the start of the war the governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the three largest states of the Union, actively pursued him to command their states’ militia. The Governor of Ohio, William Dennison, was the most persistent and McClellan accepted a commission as major general of volunteers on April 23, 1861.

On May 3rd he re-entered federal service as the commander of the Department of Ohio, responsible for Union forces in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Later, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia and Missouri were added to the department. On May 14th, he was commissioned a major general of the Regular Army. McClellan now outranked everyone except Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott.

McClellan began the war with two objectives. The first was to build and train an army. The volunteers needed to clothed, fed, equipped and trained. His second objective was the occupation of western Virginia, an area that wanted to remain in the Union. After two minor victories, the Northern newspapers, hungry for a hero, christened him “Gen. McClellan, the Napoleon of the Present War.”

After the Union defeat at First Manassas (Bull Run) on July 21, 1861, Lincoln summoned McClellan to Washington to be the commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. 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.”

On August 20th he formed the Army of the Potomac and began to train troops and integrate units into it. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. The Army of the Potomac grew in number from 50,000 in July to 168,000 in November and was considered by far the most colossal military unit the world had seen in modern historical times.

He proposed that his army should be expanded to 273,000 men and 600 guns and “crush the rebels in one campaign.” He favored a war that would impose little impact on civilian populations and require no emancipation of slaves.

It was during this time that two overriding issues began to impact his conduct of the war. The first was his conflict with the Radical Republicans. McClellan was not an abolitionist. He believed that slavery was embedded in the Constitution and that the war was not being fought to free the slaves.

The second issue was his constant fear that the Confederate Army was far larger than it actually was. In August, he believed that they had 100,000 troops facing him despite their having only 35,000 at Manassas several weeks before. 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.

After his appointment as General-in-Chief, McClellan and Lincoln began to be at odds with each other. McClellan treated the President with little deference. He privately referred to Lincoln, whom he had known before the war as a lawyer for the Illinois Central, as “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon”, a “gorilla”, and “ever unworthy of … his high position.” On November 13, he snubbed the president, visiting at McClellan’s house, by making him wait for 30 minutes, only to be told that the general had gone to bed and could not see him.

By January, Lincoln and his Cabinet were losing patience with the general. Lincoln expressed his exasperation with McClellan and was reputed to have said, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

On January 12th 1862, McClellan was summoned to the White House and revealed his strategy to Lincoln and his cabinet. He revealed his intentions to transport the Army of the Potomac by ship to UrbannaVirginia, on the Rappahannock River, outflanking the Confederate forces near Washington, and proceeding 50 miles overland to capture Richmond. This would have left Washington without a proper defensive force and Lincoln would have none of it.

On January 27th, Lincoln ordered the Army of the Potomac to begin offensive operations by February 22nd. On January 31, he issued a supplementary order for the Army of the Potomac to move overland to attack the Confederates at Manassas Junction and Centreville. McClellan immediately replied with a 22-page letter objecting in detail to the president’s plan and advocating instead his Urbanna plan, which was the first written instance of the plan’s details being presented to the president.

Lincoln continued to interfere in McClellan’s planning and operation of the army. He reluctantly agreed to McClellan’s plan but on March 8th called McClellan’s subordinates to the White House where he questioned them on their confidence in the plan. They expressed their confidence to varying degrees.

After the meeting, Lincoln issued another order, naming specific officers as corps commanders to report to McClellan. He had been reluctant to do so prior to assessing his division commanders’ effectiveness in combat, even though this would have meant his direct supervision of twelve divisions in the field.

Then Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston withdrew from positions in front of Washington and moved south of the Rappahannock River, nullifying the Urbanna strategy. McClellan came under extreme criticism from the press and the Congress when it was found that Johnston’s forces had not only slipped away unnoticed, but had for months fooled the Union Army through the use of logs painted black to appear as cannons, nicknamed Quaker Guns.

The Radical Republicans were outraged and demanded McClellan’s dismissal but a vote in Congress was defeated by a parliamentary maneuver. Meanwhile, McClellan had adjusted his strategy. He proposed moving his troops by water to Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula. From there they would move up the narrow peninsula and take Richmond from the east.

On March 11, 1862 McClellan was relieved as general-in-chief, ostensibly to devote his entire energies to commanding the Army of the Potomac. However, he was not replaced and the civilian leadership of Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and a group of officers called the “War Board” directed the strategic actions of the Union armies that spring. In time McClellan saw the change of command very differently, describing it as a part of an intrigue “to secure the failure of the approaching campaign.”



A Steep Learning Curve for Generals

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Command Decisions

The United States Army had just 16,000 men at the onset of the Civil War. A majority of the officer was West Point-trained and had served in various posts around the country. Many of the men who were called upon to lead the large armies that both sides built had commanded companies in their former assignments.

In fact, the only serving officer who had commanded a large force was Brevet Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, who had commanded 4,000 men in the invasion of Mexico in 1947. Scott was the pioneer of the turning or flanking maneuver that he used to good advantage against the Mexicans. Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman perfect this tactic during the war.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was killed at Shiloh, commanded the 2nd Cavalry in Texas. Robert E. Lee was his second-in-command. Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell said that the U.S. Military Academy taught officers everything that they needed to know about commanding a company of dragoons on the frontier. It is no wonder that the pre-war course on strategy and the art of war lasted no more than a week. More time was spent on horsemanship because the army expected their officers to spend most of their careers in the saddle.

Many officers had no experience commanding troops in any type of fighting. Some failed and caused tremendous casualties among their men. Other succeeded purely on natural ability. Men who had led no more than companies were now called upon to lead regiments, brigades, divisions and corps.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had been a college professor before the war. He learned all of the tactics required for commanding infantry from books. At Little Round Top on July 2nd, he proved that his education was successful when his 20th Maine turned back repeated attempts by the 15th and 47th Alabama who were attempting to turn the Union position.

Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside behaved like a regimental commander but was a dismal failure at commanding an army. His disasters at Fredericksburg and the “Mud March” were an excellent example of his lack of ability. He was somewhat better as a corps commander. “Fighting” Joe Hooker was another Union commander who found his niche as a corps commander after his disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville.

On the Confederate side, Robert E. Lee was a failure in western Virginia at the start of the war. His record was so dismal that he was relegated to the backwater of the Coastal Command in North and South Carolina. His rise to command of the Army of Northern Virginia was purely by chance after Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was severely wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. Lee happened to be Jefferson Davis’ military adviser and was the right man at the right place.

Lt. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, the great “Stonewall”, had been a college professor at the Virginia Military Institute when the war began. Called upon to train Virginia militia troops, Jackson rose on sheer ability. His Valley Campaign of 1862 is still studied at West Point. He was mortally wounded by his own troops at Chancellorsville but not before crushing the Union Army was a daring flank attack, considered the greatest ones of the war.

Commanders on both sides were generally indifferent to European military theory from men like Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini and the Prussian General Carl Von Clausewitz. Commanders during the Civil War were called upon to be innovative rather than having a great reliance on theory.

The goal of generals during the war was quite simply to destroy the other side’s force. Using as much firepower as they had available, both armies literally flung themselves at each other. Early in the war they did this with little skill. Their armies were simply armed mobs who charged indiscriminately at each other. It was only after the troops and their generals became more skilled did we see maneuvers like the flank attack.

The steep learning curve encountered by generals was only overcome after a great loss of life and futility on the battlefield. In the early war the battles either had very few casualties or many casualties. In the engagements leading up to the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run) casualties were never more than 100 on either. At Manassas the Union Army sustain 2,986 killed, wounded or missing while the Confederates had about 1,000 fewer casualties.

The classic Valley Campaign was a true illustration of how a gifted commander could out-maneuver and defeat his enemy. “Stonewall” Jackson led a force of 17,000 men over 646 miles in 48 days and won several minor battles as they successfully engaged three Union armies (52,000 men), preventing them from reinforcing the Union offensive against Richmond.

Ultimately, the classroom for generals on both sides of the war was the battlefield.


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 Battle of Bentonville

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Carolinas Campaign

The Battle of Bentonville was the final major battle between the armies of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and the forces of Lt. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. For the Confederates it was the final throw of the dice in the four-year struggle for the independence.

The Union armies were split into two columns as the moved north and then west in pursuit of the Confederate foes. The Left Wing (the Army of Georgia) commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum and a Right Wing (the Army of the Tennessee) commanded by Maj. Gen.Oliver O. Howard. The two wings marched separately toward Goldsboro beginning on March 13, with no one in the Union command expecting major resistance from Johnston.

Johnston sent sent Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee‘s corps to attack Slocum’s left wing while it was separated from the rest of Sherman’s forces. The Union forces met Hardee’s Corps of 5,400 as they crossed the Cape Fear River near Averasborough (also spelled Averasboro) on the morning of March 16th. Slocum’s force numbered nearly 26,000, a nearly 5 to 1 advantage.

Click Map to enlarge.

The Union XX Corps under Maj. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams were driven back by a Confederate assault. When reinforcements arrived, the Union force drove the Confederates from two defensive lines but were repulsed from a third line. When units from Maj. Gen.Jefferson C. Davis‘s XIV Corps began to arrive on the field, Hardee ordered his men to withdraw because he was in danger of being outflanked. Hardee suffered a total of 865 casualties while the Union force had 682.

The Battle of Bentonville took place from March 19th to March 21st near the town of Four Oaks. Sherman’s Army Group outnumbered Johnston’s by 60,000 to 21,000, a nearly 3 to 1 advantage. Johnston realized that his one chance was to destroy the Union force piecemeal, taking advantage of their split wings.

Johnston had been ordered to North Carolina on February 25th by Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee who understood the danger that Sherman’s army was to Petersburg and Richmond. President Jefferson Davis had misgivings about Johnston but agreed to his reappointment. His orders were to “concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman.”

Johnston managed to pull together the remaining Confederate forces, including the Army of Tennessee commanded by Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke‘s division from the Army of Northern Virginia, troops from the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida commanded by Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, and cavalry under the command of Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton. He called the united force the Army of the South.

Maps erroneously positioned the two Union wings 12 miles apart, a day’s march. They were much closer than that. Johnston’s plan called for his General Henry Warner Slocumforce to concentrate on Slocum’s Left Wing, routing his infantry and destroying his trains. He then planned on turning against Howard’s Right Wing. He commenced the attack on March 19th as Slocum’s men were marching on the Goldsboro Road, one mile south of Bentonville.

At first, Slocum reported to Sherman that he was being attacked by cavalry with accompanying artillery and not Johnston’s army. He told Sherman that he did not require any aid. Slocum initially attacked with two divisions,  Brig. Gen. William P. Carlin‘s and Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird‘s, from the XIV Corps but this attack was driven back.

Slocum then ordered two more divisions into a defensive line while more troops were brought up to support. However, their line was compromised by a gap in the center of the line. Only one of the four divisions constructed strong breastworks.

At 3:00 PM the Confederates attacked and drove the Union left flank back in confusion. General Carlin was nearly captured and the XIV Corps field hospital was overrun. Confederates began enfilading the remaining Union troops along the defensive lines. Brig. Gen. James D. Morgan‘s 2nd Division was nearly surrounded and was attacked from three sides. However, the Confederate attacks were uncoordinated and were unsuccessful in driving them from the position.

Confederate units under Hardee attacked the Union position near the Harper House but were repulsed after repeated assaults. Union reinforcements stopped the Confederate attacks from Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill‘s troops on the flank. The fighting continued after nightfall until the Confederates withdrew to their starting line where they entrenched.

By the afternoon of March 20th, Slocum had been reinforced by Howard’s Wing which deployed on Slocum’s right flank and extend the Union line towards Mill Creek. Johnston responded to this deployment by by pulling back Hoke’s division so it ran at a right angle to Stewart’s left flank, and deploying one of Hardee’s divisions on Hoke’s left. Confederate cavalry protected the flank to Mill Creek with a weak skirmish line.

General Joseph E. JohnstonThe following day, Union Maj. Gen. Joseph A. Mower, commanding the division on the Union right flank, requested permission from his corps commander to launch a “little reconnaissance” to his front. It was granted but Mower instead launched a two-brigade attack on the Confederate left wing, which was defending Mill Creek Bridge. They managed to come within one mile of the crossing when Sherman ordered him to withdraw, a decision he later said that he regretted. Prior to the attack, Hardee’s 16-year old son, Willie, was killed while riding with the 8th Texas Cavalry.

Johnston ordered his army to withdraw that night, burning the bridge behind him. Sherman’s men did not notice the Confederate withdrawal until it was done but Sherman’s objective was Goldsboro where he planned to meet up with the forces of Maj. Gens. John M. Schofield and Alfred Terry, who were coming from the direction of Wilmington.

The Union victory at Bentonville came at a cost of 1,527 total casualties with 194 killed, 1,112 wounded and 221 missing/captured on the Union side. The Confederates sustained a larger total of 2,606 with 239 killed, 1,694 wounded and 673 missing/captured.

Over the next several weeks, Sherman consolidated his position in North Carolina and waited on events. Meanwhile, Johnston had retreated to Raleigh, the state capital. Unable to secure the capital, Johnston’s army withdrew further west to Greensboro.



The Carolinas Campaign: Background

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series The Carolinas Campaign

After The March to the Sea and the successful capture of the port of Savannah, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman set out on his final march: the Carolinas Campaign. His goal was to link up with the armies of General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant around the besieged city of Petersburg. Sherman’s army would close the back door of a possible escape for the Army of Northern Virginia.

Sherman particularly wished to punish South Carolina, the first state to secede. By pummeling South Carolina for their secession, Sherman saw this as an opportunity to further reduce the morale of the Southern states.

Sherman had reconfigured his force into three wings.  The Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, the Army of the Ohio under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, and two corps, the XIV and XX, under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, which was later formally designated the Army of Georgia, comprised his command. Reinforcements arrived regularly during his march north, and by April 1 he commanded 88,948 men.

Click map to enlarge.

The primary defensive force in South Carolina was the battered Army of Tennessee, now under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. His manpower strength was reported to be 9,513 in Mid March and 15,188 by mid-April. The army was organized into three corps commanded by Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, and Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee. Also in the Carolinas were cavalry forces from the division of Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton and a small number in Wilmington under Gen. Braxton Bragg.

The Confederate forces opposing Sherman’s veteran formations would be unable to do anything but slow him down in local fighting. They were unable to stand up to the vastly superior Union force. It does them credit that they even made the attempt, testifying to their courage and determination to defend their home states.

Sherman divided his army into separate columns as he did on the March to the Sea. In this way he hoped to confuse the Confederate defenders as to his initial objective which was Columbia, South Carolina. At the start of the campaign the wings commanded by Slocum and Howard set off by land from Savannah. Slocum was to the west of Howard and protected his left flank from the Confederate armies that hovered along their route. Schofield’s force was to join them for the North Carolina phase of the campaign.

Sherman’s plan was to bypass the minor Confederate troop concentrations at Augusta, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and reach Goldsboro, North Carolina (also spelled Goldsborough), by March 15. The town was a major rail junction and because of that, Goldsboro played a General Joseph E. Johnstonsignificant role, both for stationing Confederate troops and for transporting their supplies. The town also provided hospitals for soldiers wounded in nearby battles.

As Sherman’s force moved north their goal of destroying the Confederacy’s base of supplies became clearer. If Sherman made Georgia howl, as he had promised, South Carolina was punished as a nest of traitors. Their advance on the state capital of Columbia had a clear reason. For many Union soldiers it was a matter of personal vengeance. A Federal soldier said to his comrades, “Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it will end!”

The Union forces set out from Savannah at the end of January. The march through the Carolinas would be for 425 miles and take 50 days. When Sherman was done, he would leave a swathe of destruction through the Carolinas and accept the surrender of all of the Confederate forces in in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. It would be the second significant surrender of Confederate forces after the surrender by General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.