Missouri Union and Secessionist Partisan Forces

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series The Partisan Rangers

Partisan WarfareThe state of Missouri was a particularly violent area of conflict during the American Civil War. Within the state there was a virtual civil war within the greater national conflict. Raiders from both sides carried on bloody raids against the supporters of their opponents on an almost daily basis.

Missouri sent troops, commanders and supplies to both sides and their points of conflict were broad and deep. By the end of the Civil War Missouri had supplied nearly 110,000 troops to the Union and about 40,000 troops for the Confederate Army.

There were battles and skirmishes in all areas of the state, from the Iowa and Illinois border in the northeast to the edge of the state in the southeast and southwest on the Arkansas border. Counting minor engagements, actions and skirmishes, Missouri saw over 1,200 distinct fights. Only Virginia and Tennessee exceeded Missouri in the number of clashes within the state boundaries.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861 was the last large scale engagement in the state until Price returned in 1864 in a last-ditch attempt to capture the state. Between 1862 and 1864 the state endured guerrilla warfare in which southern partisan rangers and Bushwhackers battled the Kansas irregulars known as Jayhawkers and Redlegs or “Redleggers” (from the red gaiters they wore around their lower legs) and the allied Union forces. 

In order to bring some semblance of order to the Confederate side of the conflict, Maj.Gen. Thomas Hindman issued the “Confederate Partisan Act in Missouri” on July 17, 1862. Hindman was an Arkansas Fire-Eater who was commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department at the time. This edit was just one among the several that he issued covering conscription and the requisitioning of supplies.

I. For the more effectual annoyance of the enemy upon our rivers and in our mountains and woods all citizens of this district who are not conscripted are called upon to organize themselves into independent companies of mounted men or infantry, as they prefer, arming themselves and to serve in that part of the district to which they belong.

II. When as many as 10 men come together for this purpose they may organize by electing a captain, 1 sergeant, 1 corporal, and will at once commence operations against the enemy without waiting for special instructions. Their duty will be to cut off Federal pickets, scouts, foraging parties and trains and to kill pilots and others on gunboats and transports, attacking them day and night and using the greatest vigor in their movements. As soon as the company attains the strength required by law it will proceed to elect the other officers to which it is entitled. All such organizations will be reported to their headquarters as soon as practicable. they will receive pay and allowances for subsistence and forage for the time actually in the field, as established by the affidavits of their captains. 

III. These companies will be governed in all respects by the same regulations as other troops. Captains will be held responsible for the good conduct and efficiency of their men and will report to these headquarters from time to time. 

General Thomas C. Hindman

With the issuing of this act Confederate Partisan units began to proliferate throughout Missouri. There were at least 22 officially recognized partisan ranger units and at least 62 guerrilla units that operated throughout Missouri.

On the opposing side of the Missouri internecine warfare were the “Jayhawkers”, Redlegs and Redleggers of the pro-Union militias. Jayhawker bands waged numerous bloody and gruesome invasions of Missouri and also committed some of the most notorious atrocities of the Civil War, including the James Lane-led massacre on September 23, 1861 at Osceola, Missouri, in which the entire town was set aflame and many of it’s residents killed.

On September 23, 1861, James Lane led the 1,200-man Kansas Brigade, a unit that he organized to resist the invasion of Kansas by the secessionist Missouri State Guard led by General Sterling Price. Price defeated Lane in the Battle of Dry Wood Creek near Fort Scott, Kansas. Lane retreated and Price continued his offensive further into Missouri to the Siege of Lexington.

The climax of the campaign was on September 23, 1861, at Osceola, where Lane’s forces drove off a small Southern force and then looted and burned the town. An artillery battery under Capt. Thomas Moonlight shelled the St. Clair County courthouse. According to reports, many of the Kansans got so drunk that when it came time to leave they were unable to march and had to ride in wagons and carriages.

They carried off with them a tremendous load of plunder, including as Lane’s personal share a piano and a quantity of silk dresses. Hundreds of slaves followed Lane to Kansas and freedom. The troops moved Northwest and arrived at Kansas City, Missouri, on September 29, to pursue Price as he retreated south through the state.

The Sacking of Osceola included the taking of 350 horses and 200 slaves, 400 cattle, 3,000 bags of flour, and quantities of supplies from all the town shops and stores as well as carriages and wagons. Nine local men were rounded up, given a quick drumhead court-martial trial, and executed. All but three of the town’s 800 buildings burned; the town never fully recovered.

Jayhawkers also engineered the August 13, 1863 Collapse of Yankee jail in Kansas City in which innocent civilian female relatives of the Missouri Partisan Rangers were incarcerated by Union soldiers because of their connection to the pro-Confederate guerrillas. Supports beams of the jail had been intentionally weakened and sabotaged, and the ensuing collapse of the structure killed four women including a 14 year old. The two incidents were then followed by the infamous Raid on Lawrence, Kansas by Quantrill’s Raiders on August 21, 1863.



The Political Generals of the Union: Nathaniel Banks

This entry is part 8 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Nathaniel BanksWhen Abraham Lincoln realized that he would have to prosecute a war against the Southern states he knew that he would need to gain the allegiance of the Democrat Party. He did not want the Northern war effort to be seen as simply as Republican Party-only. In order to gain the confidence of the Northern Democrats, he would need to appoint a number of them to generalships.

Among these so-called political generals can be found Nathaniel Banks, Benjamin Butler, Franz Siegal and Dan Sickles. Added to this was John Charles Fremont who was the first Republican candidate for President, running in the 1856 election.

Nathaniel Banks was a Democratic politician from Massachusetts. He had served in the state legislature from 1848 until 1856. Within two years he was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1855 and after a protracted contest was elected Speaker of the House. In 1857, he was elected Governor, a post that he served in until January 1861. By then Banks had moved from the Democrat Party to become a Republican.

Lincoln appointed Banks as the first major general of volunteers on May 16, 1861, giving him seniority over everyone who followed him. Banks may have been a good politician but he was not a good general. He was unschooled in the ways of strategy and tactics. Lincoln’s problem was that Banks could not be fired.

Over the course of his career he failed in a number of theaters. He was whipped by “Stonewall” Jackson in the Valley Campaign of 1862 and at Cedar Mountain in August 1862. At the latter, he was saved by the arrival of Union reinforcements that resulted in a standoff.

In the winter of 1862 he raised a force of 30,000 men from the Northeast who he led to New Orleans where he replaced Maj. Gen. Ben Butler as commander of the Department of the Gulf. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, doubted the wisdom of replacing Butler with Banks.

According to historian John D. Winters, “Welles’s opinion of the military abilities of both men was very low, but he did not question Butler’s skill as a ‘police magistrate’ in charge of civil affairs. Banks, he thought did not have ‘the energy, power or ability of Butler.’ He did have ‘some ready qualities for civil administration,’ but was less reckless and unscrupulous’ and probably would not be able to hold a tight enough rein on the people” once placed under Union control.”

Banks had mixed success in the Gulf. He was ordered to capture the vital Confederate base at Port Hudson, Louisiana on the Mississippi River. With the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson the South would be split in two parts, cutting off supplies to their armies east of the river. Banks led an expedition of 12,000 men who attempted to storm the Confederate works on two occasions. Both were dismal failures with each of the two attacks resulting in more than 1,800 Union casualties. The Confederate garrison surrendered after Vicksburg fell.

In March 1864 at the urging of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, who was still General-in-Chief, Banks embarked on the Red River Campaign. Banks’s army was routed at the Battle of Mansfield by General Richard Taylor (son of former President Zachary Taylor) and retreated 20 miles (32 km) to make a stand the next day at the Battle of Pleasant Hill. Despite winning a tactical victory at Pleasant Hill, Banks continued the retreat to Alexandria, his force rejoined part of the Federal Inland Fleet.

After the campaign, just before General Sherman began his operations against Atlanta, Sherman said of the Red River campaign that it was “One damn blunder from beginning to end.” On April 22, 1864, Grant wired Chief of Staff Halleck asking for Banks’s removal. He was replaced by Edward Canby, who was promoted to major general.

President Lincoln ordered Banks to oversee elections held under the new constitution in September, and then ordered him to return to Washington to lobby Congress for acceptance of Louisiana’s constitution and elected Congressmen. Congress refused to seat Louisiana’s two Congressmen in early 1865.

After six months, Banks returned to Louisiana to resume his military command under Canby. However, he was politically trapped between the civilian government and Canby, and resigned from the army in May 1865 after only one month in New Orleans. He returned to Massachusetts in September 1865.



Civil War Military Hospitals

This entry is part 10 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

Civil War field hospitalLike most organized activity of a military nature at the start of the few doctors knew about setting up and operating a military hospital. If a doctor hadn’t practiced in New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Washington, all cities with charity hospitals, they knew nothing at all about hospitals.

“At the outbreak of the civil war,” the author of the chapter on general hospitals in The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion wrote, “this country knew nothing practically of large military hospitals; indeed, most of our volunteer medical officers knew nothing of military hospitals, small or large.”

Newly recruited medical officers, therefore, needed to learn how the military operated as well how hospitals operated. After all, it was the military who requisitioned space, built new hospitals, provided supplies, and needed regular, complete reports of the numbers of sick and wounded.

In the Union Army, each regiment was supposed to have a field hospital. For armies on the march, these were field hospitals, with supplies carried along in wagons and set up in whatever quarters could be found or organized around ranks of tents. For armies encamped, there were post hospitals created out of tents or wooden barracks; these were organized at the regimental or brigade (3 to 6 regiments) level. Remember, all of this in theory.

New systems needed to develop rapidly to cope with the thousands of battle casualties. Triage sorted the wounded by the severity of their injuries and the treatment needed. Near the battlefield, tents often served as temporary field hospitals. Existing buildings were also used, but these were often dark, dirty and stuffy, lacking the space and ventilation of tents. One of the most famous of these is the Graffiti House at Brandy Station in Virginia.

After wounded men were evacuated from the battlefield and treated at field hospitals they were often transported by rail to major Northern and Southern cities. There were 24 military hospitals, plus branches, in the city of Philadelphia at one time or another, in addition to the 22 small civilian hospitals that also treated troops. By the end of the war, Philadelphia hospitals had cared for about 157,000 soldiers and sailors.

On the other side of the line Chimborazo Hospital in the Confederate capital city of Richmond opened in October 1861. The hospital had a capacity of about 3,000 patients at a time. It was spread out over about 120 buildings. It had its own ice house, soup house, bakery, soap factory, etc., operated its own farms, beef and goat herds, canal trading boat. Chimborazo had a medical staff of about 45. Throughout the war it treated about 76,000 wounded soldiers.

Being sent to a hospital was often viewed as a death sentence by soldiers. While no statistics are satisfactory and those for the Confederacy in a state of total confusion, it is a safe generalization that deaths from wounds were as numerous as deaths on the battlefield and that deaths from disease were more than twice both these combined.

Very often wounded soldiers only survived because a family member rushed to their hospital location and nursed them back to health. Other soldiers survived because they were sent home to recuperate.

As the war went on both sides had learned valuable lessons and were able to cope with the increasingly higher casualty rate. THe hospital system at City Point represented the apex in Civil War field hospitals. During the siege of Petersburg, the first-class hospitals built at City Point became capable of treating 15,000 wounded with medical care unsurpassed in a field environment.

Of the seven hospitals eventually located at City Point, the Depot Field Hospital was the largest and was able to provide care for 10,000 patients. Surgeon Edward B. Dalton commanded this tremendous operation of 1,200 tents, which blanketed 200 acres. As the weather cooled, 90 log buildings, 20 feet by 50 feet were built to house the wounded, but operations still required that 324 tents remain in use throughout the winter. Nurses ensured that each patient, who had his own bed and washbasin, was clean and comfortable by regularly providing clean linens and clothes.

These hospitals represented self-contained cities. They operated their own supply system very similar to the modern day network. The hospitals requisitioned, received and stored their own supplies. This system functioned so smoothly that the soldiers never lacked the necessary medicine or equipment.

The hospitals ran their own laundries, dining facilities and dispensaries. These medical facilities even had running water, pumped from the James River, to assist in keeping the hospital as sanitary as possible under field conditions.

These hospitals received vast amounts of assistance from civilian agencies such as the Christian Commission and the U.S. Sanitary Commission. These agencies provided fresh and canned fruit to help lift the health and morale of the soldiers. Each Corps had their own Sanitary Relief Station consisting of two wagons. These relief stations issued 100 tons of canned tomatoes, 1,200 barrels of cucumbers and 17,000 cans of Sauerkraut.

The soldiers at City Point even had a lemonade stand to quench their thirst. Usually, two or three ships, loaded with goods supplied by these civilian commissions, sat at City Point waiting to unload their “treats.”

Today’s military field hospitals around the globe are direct descendants of the ones that General Ulysses S. Grant ordered built in 1864 for the care of his wounded and sick troops.


The Descent Into Total War

This entry is part 6 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

The Burning of the Shenandoah ValleyTotal War is an oft-used phrase in modern warfare. The textbook description of Total War is war in which a belligerent engages in the complete mobilization of fully available resources and population.

However, Total War in the American Civil War did not begin with a formal directive from the Lincoln administration. It was a gradual descent from a war conducted by rank amateurs to one in which increasingly veteran soldiers foraged throughout the countryside at will with the passive approval of their commanders.

The average Union soldier never accepted the policy of conciliation with the Confederacy. They looked upon them as the reason why they had left their homes and families to defend the Union. For northern soldiers the concept of the Union and its defense was paramount. They did not volunteer to free the slaves but to preserve the Union. Gary Gallagher in The Union War is very clear about this and backs his theory up with numerous quotations from contemporary sources.

Gallagher insists, abolition always “took a back seat” to the paramount goal of saving the Union. Most Northerners remained indifferent to the plight of the slaves. They embraced emancipation only when they concluded it had become necessary to win the war.

They fought because they regarded the United States as a unique experiment in democracy that guaranteed political liberty and economic opportunity in a world overrun by tyranny. Saving the Union, in the words of Secretary of State William H. Seward, meant “the saving of popular government for the world.”

They also saw the need to punish the South for their secession in a Biblical sense. One Ohio soldier wrote, “I believe, generally, there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood and the sin of rebellion is no exception. True here as very often, the blood of the innocent must mingle their blood with the guilty.”

Nearly every military order that touched on soldier’s conduct toward civilian populations emphasized that Southern property was to be respected. Soldiers were told that bad behavior would embitter the local populations and prevent reconciliation.

But tell that to cold, wet soldiers who have just marched 20 miles whose supply system was inadequate or downright broken. The supply systems of both armies were not capable of maintaining the ever-increasing sizes of both armies. Until the latter stages of the war the Union supply chain was unable to adequately feed their troops. As the Union armies picked the South clean, Confederate troops in all theaters suffered with shortages in all areas of supply.

Initially, Union troops offered to pay for food with greenbacks but in many cases most Southerners refused to accept payment. Union soldiers were always in need of firewood and rail fences and farm structures were always in danger to foragers. Anecdotes from throughout the war tell stories where deserted hamlets were quite literally taken apart for soldier’s needs.

Soldiers who felt that their normal rations were inadequate simply decided on their own to forage for food. Despite the official policy of issuing vouchers, local inhabitants constantly complained to higher authorities.

In some areas, local farmers engaged in a blatant form of price gouging. They raised the prices of all of their commodities to extremely high levels. In Unionist western Maryland farmers raised the price of watermelons from two cents to twenty-five cents. Other commodities also saw a precipitous rise in prices.

Civilians in the contested areas of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia often found that they were at the mercy of both armies. As the tide of battle ebbed and flowed across the countryside, soldiers from both armies foraged for food, livestock and wood.

Especially contested was the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, an area that was contested throughout the war. By 1864, the agricultural economy of the Valley was wrecked with barns burned, livestock taken and fields stripped of food sources. More importantly, farmers were drafted into the Confederate Army which further reduced the production from this vital area. Here is the link to a series that gives an overview of the destruction of the Shenandoah Valley.

Gradually, soldiers on both sides used foraging as a means of supplementing their diets. They regularly seized food stuffs, livestock and other supplies without compensation. Officers in some cases deliberately ignored orders and allowed their men to forage freely. Some Union commanders were well known for allowing their men to pillage at will.

Brig. Gen. Louis Blenker and Maj. Gen. David Hunter were two such commanders who used wholesale pillaging as a weapon against the secessionists. In Western Virginia, Col. Robert McCook‘s brigade was well-known for their pillaging the homes of secessionists. As early as October 1861, the brigade was already burning houses and public buildings along its line of march.

The success of the policy of conciliation was dependent on two variables: the willingness of Union soldiers to leave civilians alone and the willingness of civilians to leave soldiers alone. Almost from the outset, soldiers found that neither condition was possible.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan’s 1864 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley is still remembered today as “The Burning”.


Union Efforts at Conciliation: 1861

This entry is part 1 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

Fort Sumter in 1860One hundred and fifty two years after the start of the American Civil War many Americans are uneducated about the facts surrounding the war. In most people’s minds the war between the North and South was just that a war between two monolithic opponents. Today, many Americans are unaware of the anti-war sentiments that were circulating throughout both regions of the United States. They also do not understand that the Union government was hoping for conciliation before blood was spilled.

Not all Northerners were in favor of the war. Not all Southerners were in favor of the Confederacy. In fact, there were many regiments composed of white southerners and many African-American regiments that were recruited in the South.

This series of posts attempts to explain the Union government’s policy to the South; from conciliation to total war. This descent into the hell of total war was gradual and measured and took years to occur.

The Union government of Abraham Lincoln did not begin the war with the goal of destroying the South. On the contrary, they attempted to persuade the Southerners to return to the Union without the violence that would characterize the latter stages of the war.

The Lincoln administration’s early policy was to spare Southern civilians from the horrors of war. Their constitutional rights were to be respected and their property was not to be touched in the course of military combat.

At the start of the war the Lincoln administration specifically renounced any intention of attacking slavery. In fact, Abraham Lincoln himself articulated his policy as preserving the Union. Lincoln believed that most white Southerners were lukewarm about secession. After all, who wants their lives and livelihoods disrupted?

Many of the Northern officers in high commands agreed with the Lincoln government’s policy, although like the South there were some firebrands who called for the abolition of slavery as the main objective of the war.

Lincoln felt that the Union war effort must not be seen as a strictly Republican policy but a national one that spanned their entire spectrum of the northern political parties. He appointed a number of prominent Democrats as major generals in order to carry out his goal.

These Democrats were more conciliatory to their fellow Southern Democrats and therefore shaped the military strategy for the first fifteen months of the war.

The Lincoln administration and its high command attempted a number of things to try to draw the South back in the Union. On the one hand they continued to try conciliation. The General-in-Chief Winfield Scott was a believer in a non-confrontational approach to the South.

He was supported in this by the new Secretary of State William Seward who believed that if military confrontations could be avoided, then the latent Unionist sentiment across the South would rise to the surface and the Southern states would return to the Union.

Scott drafted a memorandum for the incoming administration that laid out four possible courses of action that they could take.

First, they could undertake a full-scale invasion of the South. Scott proposed a timeline of two or three years. He also felt that the Union government would need an army of 300,000 trained troops under a superior general. Approximately one-third would be needed for garrisons as the army moved further south.

Scott foresaw a frightful loss of life and the destruction of property throughout the region. In addition he forecast a staggering cost of some $250 million with only devastation to show for it.

His second option was some compromise like the Crittenden proposal that would return the Southern states to the Union under terms acceptable to them.

Scott’s third option was to close Southern ports to trade using a naval blockade and collect the duties on foreign goods from warships stationed off Southern harbors. Considering that the United States Navy had less than sixty ships, this option might take some time to implement.

His final option was simply to “say to the seceded States, Wayward Sisters, depart in peace.” This last was a non-starter for the Lincoln administration. In essence, they would have admitted defeat before a shot had been fired.

When the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 any possibility of a peaceful resolution of the crisis ended. Lincoln promptly called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion.

Besides cheering those in the North who favored the return of the seceded states to the Union, it triggered the secession of the four states of the Upper South. The sides were now set and the Union government began to plan its strategy.


The Union Army and the Railroads

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series The Organization of the Armies

Orange & Alexandria Railroad yard in Alexandria, VirginiaOne of the most overlooked yet important areas of the Union Army’s war effort was the use of military railroads. For the first time in history, railroads played a significant role in the fighting.

The campaign strategy very often was based on the availability and capacity of military roads. The construction, maintenance and defense of vital military rail lines involved large numbers of men and equipment. The railroads carried an ever-increasing load of troops and supplies, speeding their movement across the country from supply depots to the battlefield.

General William T. Sherman credited the 473 mile single-track railroad with his victory at Atlanta. The line carried supplies for 100,000 men and 35,000 horses for 196 days as Sherman’s forces moved towards Atlanta. The whole series of battles around Atlanta centered around rail lines and railroad depots.

The Siege of Petersburg in 1864-1865 was dictated by the Union threat to cut off the Confederate rail lines from the southwest and the southeast. The loss of the rail line from the besieged city to its main supply centers would have forced the Confederates to abandon Petersburg and Richmond to the Union Army.

By the beginning of the Civil War, railroads in the United States had grown to be the major mover of people and freight across the ever-expanding country. The northern states had 21,000 miles of track at the start of the war while the South had about 9,000 miles. Not all of the rail systems were interconnected.

Most of the locomotives, rolling stock and the very rails themselves emanated from northern factories. Once this source of supply was cut off, the southern rail lines began to deteriorate. Relentless attacks by Federal troops contributed to this deterioration. With the maintenance issues that the South faced, the Confederate authorities were forced to schedule fewer trains and run the ones that they did schedule at increasingly low speeds. Fortified railroad bridge across the Cumberland River

Many of the men who held positions of authority in the Union government had been railroaders before the war. Secretary of War Simon Cameron and General George B. McClellan were two such people. President Abraham Lincoln was the legal counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad from 1853 until 1860. As such, they understood how the railroad worked and its importance to the war effort.

However poor the railroads in the South became, they did allow the Confederates tve troops from one embattled area to another throughout the war. General James Longstreet’s 18,000-man First Corps was moved from Virginia to Chickamauga in Georgia in time to be a decisive factor in the fighting there.

The privately-owned railroads of the North had agreed on fixed rates at the start of the war to transport men and material. The government found that it was cheaper to transport 1,000 men 100 miles by railroad than marching them the same distance. Artillery batteries, cavalry and supply wagons all marched while infantry regiments and their supplies were driven to battle.

The War Department established the U.S. Military Railroads (USMRR) as a separate agency to operate any rail lines seized by the government during the American Civil War in February 1862. Congress passed a law that allowed the Federal government to seize all telegraph and rail lines for the war effort. In practice the only assets that were seized were in the South.

Starting with only 7 miles of track in Northern Virginia, the USMRR grew to become a network of more than 2,000 miles. The USMRR operated with more than 6,000 cars and 400 locomotives at the height of its existence.

The construction and maintenance of the rail lines was carried out by the Construction Corps of civilians. These corps had 24,000 well-paid The Dictator Mortarcivilians at the height of its strength. Their skills and speed in building were legendary. In one instance they built a 150 foot span with 30 foot elevations across a creek in 15 hours. The Chattahoochee bridge span that was 800 feet long and nearly 100 feet high was rebuilt in 4 1/2 days.

The Confederates were also adept at repairing rail lines that were being destroyed by Union forces. There are many instances where Confederate construction gangs repaired miles of destroyed track in mere days.

Union railroad raiders began to practice methods of destruction that prevented the use of railroads until new track and ties could be procured. The Union raiders methodically removed the railroad tracks and wooden ties. The wooden ties were stacked and the track was laid on top. The ties were set on fire and after the track became soft the Union raiders bent them around trees and poles. Sherman’s troops took to calling them “Sherman’s bow ties” among other names.

The railroads were also responsible for carrying tens of thousands of wounded men from the battlefield for rear-echelon hospitals. In fact, Gordonsville and Charlottesville in Virginia’s Piedmont became “hospital” towns because they were on main rail lines.

The Union Army began to create purpose-built rail cars early in the war. An armored car patrolled the Philadelphia and Baltimore Central Railroad. The Confederates mounted a field gun on a flatbed rail car to shell the enemy at the Battle of Seven Pines in mid-1862. General Grant used an armored car during the Siege of Petersburg. A 13-inch mortar was mounted on a flatbed rail car during the siege.

Railroads became one more modern weapon that both sides used during the American Civil War. Their extensive use recognized that modern warfare was as much about logistics as it was about fighting.





The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln head and shouldersBy early 1862, President Lincoln had determined that the South would not rejoin the Union without more severe measures. After over a year of hard war, the Union government would need to turn up the heat on their former fellow Americans and threaten the emancipation of the South’s slave population.

The South’s slaves were the very basis of their wealth with 4 million people held in bondage and being employed as field hands, teamsters, factory laborers, house servants and body servants. Without their slaves, the South felt that their way of life would end forever.

Lincoln hoped that the threat of emancipation would bring the Southern leaders to the peace table. Remember, this was the man who said in a letter to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” 

For Lincoln, the overriding issue of the war was the preservation of the Union. In his book, The Union War, Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia made the case that the overriding motive in the North was preservation of the Union. In letters and diaries, Union soldiers continually refer to the preservation of the Union. Their battle cries are “For New York and the Union” or “For Maine and the Union”.

The “Union Forever” was their main concern, not the emancipation of the slaves. That may be difficult for modern Americans to understand but we need to understand the world of our forebears. Many parts of the North were devoid of African-Americans. American literature is replete with instances where characters and real people never met or even glimpsed a black person in their entire lives.

To expect them to fight for the emancipation of a race that they had no familiarity with was too much to ask of the soldiers of the northern states. However, they did harbor strong feelings for the preservation of the American Union. Many of their ancestors had fought in the American Revolution and the later War of 1812, so they were fully aware of the difficulties encountered during the formation of the country.

They saw secession by the southern states as the breaking of an oath to the Union. The South was leaving the Union in order to preserve their own financial interests. To do so at the point of a gun was seen as doubly egregious. Lincoln’s call for volunteers was met with an overwhelming response by the citizens of the North.

Reports from the battlefields on the Peninsula confirmed for Lincoln the belief that one way of hurting the Confederate war effort was to deprive First reading of the Emancipation Proclamationthem of their slave labor. Slaves were being used by the Confederate army as laborers who dug trenches and fortifications. They were also being utilized as teamsters, cooks and hospital attendants, freeing soldiers for field duty.

Away from the army, slaves worked the fields, again freeing white men to fight the Union troops. By depriving these assets to the South, the North would also be able to add them to their war effort, giving the Union forces a decided military advantage.

Lincoln first revealed his thinking to Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on the morning of July 13, 1862 as the three men rode to the funeral of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s infant son.

Lincoln’s description of his legal reasoning, according to Welles, overrode the constitutional protection of slavery with his constitutionally sanctioned war powers. Welles wrote in his diary that Lincoln had “come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.”

Abraham Lincoln first discussed the Emancipation Proclamation at a special cabinet meeting on July 21st. At this initial meeting, Lincoln read out several orders that he was contemplating. One would authorize Union generals to appropriate any property that they deemed necessary for the prosecution of the war. A second order would allow the payment of blacks that were in the army’s employ. When the cabinet discussed the arming of blacks, Lincoln was not prepared to make that decision yet.

The following day the cabinet met again. It was at this meeting that the President announced that he wished to read the preliminary draft of an emancipation proclamation. The cabinet listened in silence. After the reading of the proclamation, the members of the cabinet gave their opinions on its impact to the war effort. As was to be expected, their were varying opinions among the members of the cabinet.

Reproduction of the Emancipation ProclamationAfter much discussion Secretary Seward, who supported the President on this issue, said, “…I fear it may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.” Seward urged the President to wait, “until the eagle of victory takes his flight.”

Lincoln agreed with Seward’s advice but spent the rest of July and into August editing the draft. He anxiously awaited a victory that would allow him to issue it. He spent the time by preparing the ground for emancipation by with both races.

He was particularly in favor of the idea of colonization of blacks in western Africa. He met with a delegation of freed slaves on August 14th but failed to fully convince them on the idea of colonization.After consulting with prominent blacks in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, the blacks reported that they met with widespread antipathy to the immigration plan. The blacks expressed the opinion that being born here and living here, they expected to die here in “the course of nature.”

Lincoln waited on events to allow him to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Events took place by the banks of Antietam creek in western Maryland on September 17, 1862.




The Confederates Retreat to Atlanta

The Confederates Retreat

to Atlanta

From May 17th until June 22nd, General Joseph E. Johnston and his Army of Tennessee fought a series of engagements with Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman‘s army group as both forces moved south to Atlanta. Sherman continued to press the numerically-inferior Confederates by movements to either flank of the Confederate army. This forced Johnston to continually withdraw closer to the Union army’s objective, Atlanta.

On May 17th, the two sides met briefly at Adairsville, just northeast of Rome, Georgia. The Confederate forces had moved south and crossed the Oostanaula River after the Battle of Resaca. Johnston considered the Calhoun area a good location to draw the advancing Union forces into a costly assault. After some scouting, he realized that there was better terrain further south near Adairsville.

Map of the Atlanta CampaignThe Union army group was divided into three columns and advanced on a broad front. Arriving at Adairsville, Johnston realized that the terrain was unsuitable for the defense that he had in mind. Johnston changed his strategy when he realized that Sherman’s force was divided. The strategy centered on the idea that he could attack one of the Union columns and cause it considerable damage.

Click Map to enlarge.

During the night of May 17–18, Johnston sent William J. Hardee‘s Corps to Kingston, while he fell back toward Cassville with the rest of his army. His hope was that Sherman would believe that most of the Confederate army was at Kingston, giving Hardee the opportunity to hold off the Union forces at Kingston while the greater part of the Confederate army destroyed the Union column at Cassville.

As in most military plans, Johnston’s did not survive contact with the enemy. Sherman reacted as Johnston had hoped but Union units were not in the location that the Confederates expected but on their flank. Realizing that he could not maneuver with them there, Maj. Gen. John B. Hood fell back to rejoin Leonidas Polk‘s force.

The two Confederate corps fell back to a line to a new line east and south of Cassville, where they were joined by Hardee who had been pushed out of Kingston. Johnston positioned his forces on a ridge, hoping that Sherman would assault his defensive line, confident that he could repulse the oncoming Union army.

On the night of May 20th, the Confederates held a council of war. Johnston recalled that Polk and Hood expressed a view that they could not hold their positions in the face of a determined Union assault. Johnston  yielded to these demands, even though he thought the position to be defensible. Hood had a different recollection at odds with Johnston’s, that the line could not be held against an attack but that it was a good position from which to move against the enemy.

Rather than force his corps commanders into a battle that they thought was unwinnable, Johnston ordered a withdrawal across the Etowah River.Sherman observing his troops The continual withdrawals were wearing on the Confederates who were anxious to stand and fight.

At New Hope Church, the greater part of the Confederate army met and defeated Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker‘s XX Corps on May 25-26, 1864. Sherman, rather than meeting Johnston at Allatoona Pass, decided to move to his left flank. Johnston countered this maneuver by moving his command to the area around New Hope Church.

Not realizing that Johnston’s entire force was there, Sherman sent Hooker’s Corps to the attack. Hooker divided his unit into three columns, one for each of his divisions. They were able to push the Confederate advance elements back about three miles, until they reached Johnston’s main line.

Due to the difficult terrain, Hooker was unable to coordinate his attacks and his men suffered terribly, particularly from shrapnel and canister fire from the Confederate artillery. In total the Union force suffered a total of 1,665 casualties against 350 Confederate casualties.

The advancing Union forces suffered another bloody nose at Pickett’s Mill on May 27th. Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard and his IV Corps was ordered to attack Johnston’s seemingly exposed right flank. The smaller Confederate force of two brigades was ready for the attack and Howard’s force was repulsed with 1,600 total casualties to 500 for the Confederates.

Battle of Pickett's MillThe Union Army of the Tennessee had set up a defensive line in and around Dallas, Georgia, held by the XV Corpsunder Maj. General John A. Logan. From May 26th until June 4th, Hardee’s Corps attempted to breach this defensive line. At two different points along the line, significant fighting erupted. The Confederates were repulsed in all of their attempts suffering at least 3,000 total casualties while their Union counterparts reported 2,400 casualties.

Meanwhile, Sherman continued to look for a way around the Confederate lines. On June 1st, his cavalry occupied Allatoona Pass, securing railroad supply for the Union army. Sherman ordered a movement east to the railroad and Johnston was forced to follow him.

As the two armies maneuvered for terrain advantage, there was a break in the fighting until June 22nd when they met at Kolb’s Farm at the southern end of the Confederate Kennesaw Mountain defensive line.

Looking for a weak spot in the line, Sherman maneuvered his forces to fix Johnston in place. He ordered Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to send Hooker to the southern end of the line. He was to be supported by the single corps of the Army of the Ohio.

The Union attack was anticipated by Johnston and he ordered Hood’s Corps to counter it. Hood was an overly aggressive commander and believing that he only faced a small enemy force, ordered his full corps of 11,000 to advance.

Hooker was ready for the Confederate attack. His troops had prepared a strong defensive line of infantry and artillery. The Confederate attack began at about 3:30 PM and was led by Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson‘s Division. They were able to push the Union skirmishers back to their mainMap of the Battle of Kolb's Farm line but in the process suffered considerable casualties.

Once they emerged from the woods into the open ground, Union artillery caused even more casualties. Falling back, they took cover in a ravine but were subjected to enfilade fire from Union artillery. Stevenson’s Division held on until nightfall, then withdrew east.

Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman‘s Division had been ordered to attack north of the Dallas Road. He fared even worse with his troops forced to march across a patch of marshy ground. Once Union artillery found the range, Hindman ordered the withdrawal of his division. It was said that the artillery alone repulsed the Confederates.

The Battle of Kolb’s Farm was a Union victory with the Confederates suffering between 1,300 to 1,500 total casualties while the Union forces sustained 300 to 500 casualties. Like many of the battles and engagements during the Atlanta Campaign, casualty reports are sometimes incomplete and vary by the source. The Union army now found itself facing the formidable natural defenses of Kennesaw Mountain.