The Two Surrenders of Joe Johnston

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Confederate Surrenders

Sherman and Johnston meetAfter the Battle of Bentonville General Joe Johnston retreated with his defeated army to Raleigh, the state capital and then to Greensboro, North Carolina. It was here that Johnston met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis to discuss further actions.

Meanwhile, Sherman had advanced to Raleigh which fell to his army on April 13th. The day before, seeing that Raleigh’s capture was imminent, Governor Zebulon B. Vance crafted plans to surrender the city, with the hope of sparing it from the destruction suffered by other southern capitals captured by Sherman’s army.

Vance appointed commissioners to carry a notice of surrender to Sherman’s headquarters. Among them was former governor David L. Swain. The commissioners delivered the notice but were delayed overnight.  Unaware of the delay, Vance left Raleigh and gave additional instructions for the surrender with Raleigh’s mayor William Harrison.

At the southern edge of Raleigh, Harrison and others met Union cavalry commander General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. While Swain waited at the Capitol, they offered the surrender of Raleigh, promising no military resistance in exchange for protection of the city. The agreed-upon terms were almost undone by a lone Texas cavalry officer who fired on Kilpatrick’s men. In the scuffle that followed, Kilpatrick’s men captured and hanged the officer. When order was restored, Union soldiers occupied and secured Raleigh.

Davis wanted to continue the struggle but Johnston demurred when he was informed of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Johnston dispatched a courier under a white flag to ask General Sherman for a meeting between the lines at a small farm known as Bennett Place near present-day Durham, North Carolina. Johnston, escorted by a detachment of about 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment, traveled east along the Hillsborough Road toward Durham Station. Sherman was riding west to meet him, with an escort of 200 men from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry.

Over the course of two days, April 17th and 18th, Johnston and Sherman negotiated the surrender of the Army of Tennessee and all remaining Confederate forces still active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It was the largest surrender of the war, totaling 89,270 soldiers. President Davis considered that Johnston, surrendering so many troops that had not been explicitly defeated in battle, had committed an act of treachery.

The difficulty in reaching a surrender agreement lay in part in Johnston’s desire, influenced by President Davis, for more than the purely military surrender that Major General Sherman offered. Sherman’s original terms matched those offered by Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Johnston along with General John C. Breckinridge, also serving as Secretary of War for the Confederacy, insisted on resolutions of political issues, including the reestablishment of state governments, return of some weapons to state arsenals and civil rights after the war.

Sherman, in accordance with Lincoln’s stated wishes for a compassionate and forgiving end to the war, agreed on terms that included these political issues.However, Sherman’s terms of surrender were more generous than Grant had given to Lee and the cabinet had rejected them with the concurrence of the new President, Andrew Johnson. Union officials in Washington, angry over the recent assassination of Lincoln on April 14, outright rejected them, several of whom, including Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, vehemently and publicly criticized Sherman for agreeing to the terms. Grant personally met with Sherman to discuss the situation with him.

Upon learning that the original terms had been rejected, Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to disband his infantry and escape with his mounted troops. Johnston disobeyed these orders and agreed to meet with Sherman at the Bennett Farm again on April 26, 1865. In the largest surrender of Confederate troops during the war, Sherman and Johnston signed new surrender terms identical to the generous ones that Grant had extended to Lee.

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.” Johnston, himself, was paroled on May 2nd.

Johnston’s Narrative of Military Operations, published in 1874, was highly critical of Davis and many of his fellow generals, continuing his grievance about the unfairness of his ranking as a general and attempting to justify his career as a cautious campaigner. The book sold poorly and its publisher failed to make a profit.

Although many Confederate generals were critical of Johnston, the memoirs of both Sherman and Grant put him in a favorable light. Sherman described him as a “dangerous and wily opponent” and criticized Johnston’s nemeses, Hood and Davis. Grant supported his decisions in the Vicksburg and Atlanta Campaigns.

Joseph E. Johnston died on March 21, 1891 after having stood bare-headed in cold and rainy weather at the funeral of his old foe and later friend William T. Sherman where he was an honorary pallbearer. When he was urged to put on his hat he replied: “If I were in his place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.”



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 Destruction of the Southern Railroads

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Railroads of the Civil War

Union troops destroying a rail line near AtlantaWilliam Tecumseh Sherman was among the first of America’s modern generals. Like his commander, Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman understood the value and importance of railroads to the Confederate war effort. Grant, Sherman and Phillip Sheridan were proponents of ‘Hard War’, the utter destruction of every resource that the Confederates could use to continue their war against the Union.

One of Sherman’s primary targets in his campaigns in the South were the Southern railroads. His initial target after he took command of the Western Theater was the city of Atlanta. The city was one of the South’s three main rail centers, along with Chattanooga and Richmond.

The Southern government was slow to recognize the importance of railroads and rail centers in their war effort. The Union Army on the other hand understood their importance to both sides and laid out specific plans to cripple the Southern railroads.

In the Eastern Theater Grant ordered the armies surrounding Richmond and Petersburg to make every effort to cut the two cities off from sources of supply by destroying the railroads that led into the cities. The Siege of Petersburg was not so much a siege in the traditional sense but a siege on the Southern supply lines. Gradually, the Union Army began to choke the Confederate capital and the Army of Northern Virginia to death.

In Tennessee, Grant’s forces had captured the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Because of Chattanooga’s strategic location, river and rail systems, Chattanooga was considered the gateway to the Deep South and an important location for both the Union and the Confederate armies. The city had been captured by the Union Army of the Cumberland.

With the capture of Atlanta in September of 1864 Sherman completed the job by beginning a methodical destruction of the railroads that ran in all directions from Atlanta.

The Mobile and Ohio Railroad had been chartered in 1848 by the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It was planned to span the distance between the seaport of Mobile, Alabama and the Ohio River near Cairo, Illinois. The start of the Civil War saw it converted to military use and it quickly became a military target for both sides during the war.

According to an annual report by the railroad in 1866, the line was totally destroyed for 184 miles between Union City, Tennessee and Okolona, Mississippi.  The bridges, depots, trestles and shops were destroyed.  Even the rails were bent and deemed unusable by the Union forces.  At Mobile, most of the rolling stock and engines were destroyed.  The line was also several million dollars in debt ($5.2 million in confederate currency – translated into over $8 billion in today’s dollars).

In November 1862, Ulysses S. Grant began the Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign down the line with the ultimate goal of capturing Vicksburg in conjunction with William Tecumseh Sherman. Grant established a base in Holly Springs and began advancing south along the railroad. Confederate soldiers built earthwork fortifications to defend the railroad’s Tallahatchie River bridge near Abbeville but retreated south without firing a shot when they learned of a flanking maneuver by Grant.

Skirmishes were fought along the railroad to Oxford and in the streets of the town itself. The Confederates were pushed further south past Water Valley, Mississippi but managed to damage a railroad trestle and lead a successful ambush at Oakland, Mississippi that stalled the Federal advance.

While Grant was stalled, Confederate General Van Dorn lead a successful cavalry raid on Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs, burning most of his supplies and then moved north destroying the railroad and telegraph lines along the way. With the railroad destroyed Grant had no way to resupply his army and was forced to end the campaign and retreat to Memphis, TN.

The New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern was a 206 miles 5 ft gauge railway originally commissioned by the State of Illinois in the 1851. The railroad was the South’s longest rail line. It connected Canton with New Orleans and was completed just prior to the Civil War, in which it served strategic interests, especially for the Confederacy. The New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern was largely in ruins by the end of the War.

When the war started, it was one of the best roads in the Confederacy. It actually had 7 locomotives and 11 passenger cars in reserve for an expected increaseSherman's Bowties in traffic. When New Orleans fell under the guns of Farragut’s fleet in April 1862, the road spent four frantic days hauling troops, supplies and equipment out of the city to the north. Only when General Butler’s troops finally arrived on shore did the removal stop.

For the rest of the war, the road operated with Ponchatoula on the northern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, as its southern terminal. There were numerous Union attempts to disrupt the road, and, little by little, it ceased to operate. By the end of the war, the road had only 4 locomotives (2 partially burned) and 40 cars on a limited piece of track.

As Sherman’s forces marched to the sea and then up through the Carolina’s they methodically destroyed the Southern railroads. They used a particular method of rendering the rails useless by bending them around poles and trees. First, they would remove the rails from the sleepers. Then, they would stack the sleepers in a square with a furiously burning fire in the middle. Once the fire was sufficiently stoked they would lay the rails on top. Once the rails were soft enough the troops would bend them around a pole or tree making what became known as ‘Sherman’s Neckties’ or ‘Sherman’s Bowties’.

From 1864 until the end of the war, the Confederacy’s ability to repair the Union Army’s destruction began to decline. Sherman’s February 1864 campaign through Mississippi caused so much destruction that it took four months to repair. His later campaigns were so destructive that many of the railroads remained out of service through the end of the war.

Part of the Confederacy’s repair problems were due to the Confederate government’s near total lack of assistance to the railroads. Neither manpower nor supplies was forthcoming. This was often justified as a matter of state’s rights. On the other hand the very same government was more than willing to conscript railroad workers and supplies. The Confederate government was willing to take but not to give.


Our Best Men: James B. McPherson

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General James McPhersonThe American Civil War is filled with tragic stories. Excellent leaders who were cut down in the prime of their lives. Wasted human potential on the bloody battlefields of the war. Young men whose death were a painful loss for the country. Here are the stories of two such men. One wore blue and one were gray and both men’s deaths were a loss. (I will relate Stephen Ramseur’s story in my next post)

James Birdseye McPherson has been memorialized in many places across America. A fort, three counties, a national cemetery, an elementary school and a highway in his hometown all serve to keep his memory alive. In our nation’s capital there is an equestrian statue in the appropriately named McPherson Square. The statue was paid for by McPherson’s former comrades in the Society of the Army of the Tennessee.

But James McPherson was more than a bronze statue. When the Confederates who mortally wounded him his grief-stricken aide said: “You’ve killed our best man.” McPherson’s brief meteoric career left an imprint on many of those that he served with and commanded.

Born on November 14, 1828 near Hamer’s Corners, Ohio, James McPherson graduated number one in his class from West Point. He was immediately assigned to the Corps of Engineers where he served in New York, Delaware and California working on coastal defenses. 

At the onset of the war he asked for a transfer to the East thinking that being in the center of the action would advance his career. He was almost immediately assigned to the staff of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis, Missouri. It was here that he met the man who would change his life, Ulysses S. Grant. Grant needed a chief engineer and McPherson fit the bill.

He was at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Shiloh. After the latter battle he was promoted to brigadier general. Grant could see McPherson’s leadership qualities and by October 1862 he was promoted to major general and soon after was given command of the XVII Corps in Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. He would lead the corps through the long Vicksburg Campaign.

On March 12, 1864, he was given command of the Army of the Tennessee, after its former commander, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, was promoted to command of all armies in the West. His army was the right wing of Sherman’s triad of armies which included  the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio.

On May 5, 1864 Sherman in coordination with the other Union armies began the Atlanta Campaign. McPherson’s army bore the brunt of the early fighting Sherman criticized him for being “slow”. It appears that faulty planning on Sherman’s part allowed the Confederates to escape the Union trap at Dalton, Georgia.

McPherson drove his troops hard chasing the Confederates “vigorously”. They drove the enemy out of Dallas, Georgia. After the Union disaster at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, McPherson tried a flanking maneuver at the Battle of Marietta, but that failed as well.

Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis grew frustrated with General Joseph E. Johnston and replaced him with Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, McPherson’s classmate and friend. When Hood’s cavalry reported that the left flank of McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, east of Atlanta, was unprotected, he planned a flank attack reminiscent of Stonewall Jackson’s at Chancellorsville.

Sherman believed that the Confederates were beaten and were withdrawing but McPherson thought otherwise, feeling that Hood would attack his left and rear. Almost immediately, four divisions under Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee flanked Maj. Gen. Grenville Dodge‘s XVI Corps.

While McPherson was riding his horse toward his old XVII Corps, a line of Confederate skirmishers appeared, yelling “Halt!”. McPherson raised his hand to his head as if to remove his hat, but suddenly wheeled his horse, attempting to escape. The Confederates opened fire and mortally wounded McPherson.

His adversary, John Bell Hood, wrote,

I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.



Post Civil War Narratives: Other Points of View

Confederate surrender at AppomattoxThe ‘Lost Cause’ myth is probably the best-known post civil war narrative. It permeates through the writing of Douglas Southall Freeman and other Civil War historians. it can also be found interspersed throughout Ken Burns’ Civil War mini-series.

But there are at least three other post civil war narratives that we should consider.

The primary narrative on the Northern side can be called the ‘Union Cause’ narrative. It is the direct opposite of the ‘Lost Cause’ myth. This narrative has Daniel Webster as one of its heroes. Even though he died in October of 1852, Webster is looked upon as the defender of the Union in the antebellum years. He along with fellow Whig, Henry Clay of Kentucky, worked for compromises to stave off the sectionalism that threatened war between the North and the South.

Of course, Abraham Lincoln is seen as another great hero of the Union. Lincoln is looked upon as the man who saved the Union by his determination to do anything to thwart the secessionists. In a letter to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862, Lincoln wrote:

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.

Lincoln is followed in this pantheon of Union heroes by Ulysses S. Grant. The General-in-Chief is looked upon as the instrument of the destruction of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Through Grant, Lincoln’s policies were carried to fruition. William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan held the same place in the Union pantheon as Stonewall Jackson held in the ‘Lost Cause’ pantheon.

The ‘Union Cause’ narrative celebrated the restoration of the Union. This was the paramount reason for the Civil War and it accomplished its objectives.

Among the freed slaves they is yet another narrative. For them the Civil War was referred to alternately as the Freedom War or the Slavery War. Their entire focus was, understandably so, about emancipation from bondage. All else pales by comparison.

Even today African-Americans celebrate Emancipation Day on April 16th and Juneteenth on June 19th. The former celebrates the day of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act while the latter is the day that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865. Along with the obvious celebrations of freedom, the courage and service of the black soldiers who fought for the Union cause is also celebrated.

Finally, there is the Reconciliation Cause that celebrated the valor and courage of soldiers on both sides. All other causes of the war are in the background. The surrender at Appomattox is the primary symbol of the Reconciliation Cause. How Ulysses Grant treated Robert E. Lee and Chamberlain’s order for his troops to salute the surrendering Confederates are highlights of the Reconciliation Cause.

Two former opponents who later became friends, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Brown Gordon personify this narrative. On many occasions after the war these two often presided over veteran’s reunions throughout the country.

Chamberlain explained his decision to order a salute to the defeated Confederates on his own:

The decision “was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?”

The following morning, April 12th, the Confederates marched past the victorious Union troops, stacked their arms, folded their flags and disappeared into history.


The Flank Attack

This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Jackson's Flank AttackThe American Civil War saw a revolution in new weaponry and tactics during its four years of combat. New weaponry curbed the use of full frontal assaults where brigades charged in double lines. The bloody assaults at Fredericksburg, Shiloh and Pickett’s Charge caused commanders from both sides to use the flank attack more often.

A flank attack is to attack an enemy or an enemy unit from the side. There are several variations to this basic military tactic. One type is employed in an ambush, where a friendly unit performs a surprise attack from a concealed position. Other units may be hidden to the sides of the ambush site to surround the enemy. 

Another type is used in the attack, where a unit encounters an enemy defensive position. Upon receiving fire from the enemy, the unit commander may decide to order a flank attack. Part of the attacking unit “fixes” the enemy with suppressive fire, preventing them from returning fire, retreating or changing position to meet the flank attack. The flanking force then advances to the enemy flank and attacks them at close range. 

The most effective form of flanking maneuver is the double envelopment, which involves simultaneous flank attacks on both sides of the enemy. This tactic was used extensively in the Civil War as commanders tried to outflank their opponent and bring concentrated fire or enfilade the enemy by firing along the long axis of the unit. For instance, a trench is enfiladed if the enemy can fire down the length of the trench.

Perhaps the most famous flank attack was Stonewall Jackson’s attack against the Union Army of the Potomac’s right flank at the Battle Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson settled upon a highly aggressive plan to march Jackson’s forces around the Union positions and onto that exposed flank. 

After a hard and dusty march on May 2, Jackson’s column reached its jumping off point for their attack upon the unsuspecting Federal right flank. At 5:20 pm, Jackson’s line surged forward in an overwhelming attack that crushed the Union Twelfth Corps. Federal troops, however, rallied, resisted the advance, and counterattacked. Disorganization and darkness ended the fighting.

Unfortunately for the Confederacy, while making a night reconnaissance, Jackson was shot by his own troops in the darkness and fell mortally wounded. Robert E. Lee was never able able to replace the great Stonewall and many historians maintain that his loss caused the defeat of the Confederacy.

On the Union side both Ulysses S, Grant and William T. Sherman used the flank attack to their advantage both in the Western Theater and in Virginia in 1864.

At the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, Ulysses S. Grant planned a double envelopment of Confederate forces led by General Braxton Bragg. William T. Sherman leading 20,000 men from the Army of the Tennessee were to attack the right flank of the Confederate defensive line that was situated at Tunnel Hill.  General Joseph Hooker with three divisions was ordered to assault the left end of the Confederate line.

Sherman’s assault on the right was stymied by a fierce Confederate defense but Grant ordered General George Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland to advance against the base of the ridge at the center of the Confederate defense.After taking the rifle pits the Union troops continued their advance and ultimately took the crest of the ridge. The Confederate lines were broken and Bragg was forced to order a retreat.

Sherman would go on to use the tactic of the flank attack throughout his advance to Atlanta. Sherman moved his forces along lines of least resistance and greatest gain. This approach guided the March to Atlanta, a series of interwoven flank maneuvers that included one precalculated frontal assault.

It was also the motivating idea in the Marches to the Sea and the Carolinas, which Sherman envisioned as a necessary ’roundabout’ flank attacks on General Lee in Virginia. Ironically, these marches over land, totaling over 600 miles, actually shortened the war considerably, perhaps by as much as a year.

When Grant took overall command of the Union armies his first campaign was dubbed the Overland Campaign because his intent was to move overland to Richmond. He planned to fight a constant series of battles against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. His aim was the destruction of the main Confederate fighting force in the Eastern Theater.

The entire Overland Campaign was a series of flanking movements by the Army of the Potomac to force Lee to respond by moving southeast and eventually being brought to bay at Petersburg. Grant’s goal was to bleed the Confederates but in doing so he also bled the Army of the Potomac. Over the course of the campaign both armies had combined casualties of almost 89,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured.

Most of the casualties were sustained in the Wilderness (29,800), Spotsylvania Court House (30,000) and Cold Harbor (15,500). From May 5th until June 24th, the armies fought 11 battles, engagements and skirmishes. In the course of the fighting, the Union Army lost Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, commander of the VI Corps, at Spotsylvania white the Army of Northern Virginia lost Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, their cavalry commander, at Yellow Tavern.

Finally, Grant’s overall strategy was to use the Army of the Shenandoah, Union forces in West Virginia and the Army of the James to attack the Confederate forces in the East on the flanks.

The Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia were assigned to deny Lee’s army of supplies from the rich farmland of the Valley. Ben Butler’s Army of the James was assigned to attack Richmond from the east and draw off troops opposing the advance of the Army of the Potomac. Most of these attacks would initially fail due to poor generalship. Eventually, Grant found the right generals to lead these efforts and they accomplished their objectives.


Grant’s Final Strategy

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant in full uniformAfter being turned down by the high Command and the President, Grant revisited his strategic plan. Washington was a risk-averse town and the military and civilian leaders of the Union government were the most risk-averse of all. Grant’s initial plans for the campaigns across the South were extremely radical.

His proposal to drive across North Carolina in order to cut off Lee’s supply lines was, in their view, the riskiest of all. Moving troops from northern Virginia would uncover the nation’s capital would risk raids by the Confederates. What if Lee didn’t take the bait and drove right up Pennsylvania Avenue? No, that just wouldn’t do.

Grant’s pincer attack from Mobile to Montgomery was rejected because Abraham Lincoln was fixated on a show of strength for the French in Mexico. He felt that the Union government needed to send a message by sending an expedition up the Red River. It was as if he was saying that we can protect all of our territory. So, it was back to the drawing board for General Grant.

Grant now proposed a new strategy. Grant had seen the war from a Western Theater point of view. In the Eastern Theater the war was mostly confined to Virginia with two confederate invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. In the Western Theater the view was very different.

The war in the Western Theater exposed Grant to a war against the entirety of Southern society. He understood that the Southerners were unrepentant, their armies were resilient and the war zone was expansive.

In Virginia, the war was a one-on-one conflict between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. In the Western Theater, the war had to carried out against all of the elements: the population, the Confederate Army and Southern society. Therefore, Grant tailored his strategy based on these principles.

When asked about his opinion on Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini’s book on strategy, Grant was said to have replied:

I have never read it carefully; the art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on. 

Seems simple enough.

Grant’s first element of his strategy was the destruction of the Confederate field armies. His plan called for placing as much pressure as possible on Robert E. Lee’ Army of Northern Virginia and Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. His plan was to draw them out into the open field and destroy them by a series of major engagements.

In order to successfully carry out these objective, Grant planned to coordinate all of the Union armies. By doing this the Confederates would not be able to shift their forces across theater lines, as they had done when General James Longstreet’s Second Corps had been sent to the Western Theater. This would eliminate the Confederacy’s advantage of interior lines of supply.

Grant estimated that if he couldn’t annihilate his enemies in battle, he would be able to exhaust them logistically, economically and psychologically. It has been characterized by historians either as a annihilation or attrition or both.

Grant and his disciples, the foremost being William T. Sherman, saw war as brutal and unpleasant. They believed in the “hard war” or total war that would be necessary in order to bring the Civil War to swift and successful conclusion.

In order to carry out his strategy, Grant would need commanders that agreed with his belief in “hard war” but here he ran into the political realities of the war.

Sherman was a logical choice as commander of the Army of the Tennessee and eventually overall commander of the Western Theater. Today, he is best remembered for his pronouncement: “All war is hell” but in a letter to the mayor and city council of Atlanta he wrote:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.

Sherman was an easy position to fill but the others were not so easy. General Nathaniel Banks was in command of the Army of the Gulf. He was a former Massachusetts Congressman and Governor with very little military experience. His Red River Expedition was defeated before the campaigns in Virginia and Georgia could even begin. This gave Grant the opportunity to replace him with General Edward Canby. By then Grant lamented that the Red River Expedition had eliminated the use of 40,000 troops for the Sherman’s campaign and the attack on Mobile.

The commander in the Shenandoah Valley was General Franz Sigel, a German immigrant. So far, Sigel was a best inept and at worst incompetent. He had been appointed to his position by Lincoln who hoped to secure German immigrant support for the Republican Party. Sigel failed miserably at the Battle of New Market on May 15th and retreated North to safety. Grant was furious and replaced him with General David Hunter.

Grant’s plan called for the movement of the Army of the James to threaten Richmond from the East. The commander of the Army of the James was another Massachusetts politician, General Ben Butler. Butler was a former Democrat turned Radical Republican. Lincoln needed the support of that wing of his party so Butler’s appointment was a foregone conclusion.

Initially, Grant was favorably impressed with Butler when they met at Fortress Monroe in April. Grant’s initial judgment of Ben Butler was a serious mistake. He was indecisive and needed constant supervision. Grant constantly needed to prod him to take action. He was unable to break through the Confederate lines at Bermuda Hundred even though he outnumbered General P.G.T. Beauregard 33,000 to 18,000. This allowed Lee to move troops from this line.

Finally, Grant kept George Gordon Meade as the commander of the Army of the Potomac even though he offered to resign. Grant was impressed by Grant’s willingness to step aside for the welfare of the nation. Grant kept him on but decided to travel with the Army of the Potomac where he could guide his chief weapon.


You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.


The Opposing Sides’ Strategies

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant and LeeStarting with the Overland Campaign and continuing until the end of the war, the two sides had diametrically opposing military and political strategies. 1864 was not only a year with military objectives but also political ones.

The Union government and their army, now completely under the control of Ulysses S. Grant, had one military goal and one political one. Grant’s military goal was to defeat the armies of the Confederacy in the field.

Grant had proposed and Abraham Lincoln had approved a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, Meade, and Benjamin Butler against Lee near Richmond, Virginia; Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman to invade Georgia, defeat Joseph E. Johnston, and capture AtlantaGeorge Crook and William W. Averell to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama. This was the first time the Union armies would have a coordinated offensive strategy across a number of theaters.


In the east he gave George Meade one overriding command: “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Richmond was no longer the primary goal of the Army of the Potomac. Their primary goal was to be the destruction and surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant knew that with the defeat of Lee’s army would precipitate the fall of Richmond.

In the Western Theater, Sherman had been tasked with the capture of the rail center of Atlanta. He would then seek the destruction of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Finally, Sherman would wreak destruction through Georgia, South Carolina and South Carolina, gutting the Deep South and preventing the supplying of the various Confederate armies.

Not all of Grant’s armies were led by professional soldiers and they would fall short of his goals. Butler’s mission was to deploy his 33,000-man army via the James River to the Virginia Peninsula and strike northwest to Richmond. His objective was to cut the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, a critical Southern supply line, and force Lee to send reinforcements to that front, weakening him against Grant and Meade. Ben Butler would be bottled up at Bermuda Hundred by General P.G.T. Beauregard with a force of 18,000.

Sigel would be defeated at the battle of New Market by John C. Breckinridge. Sigel staged a rapid retreat northward to Strasburg, leaving the field and the Valley to Breckinridge’s army. After learning of the Union defeat, Grant became furious and replaced Sigel with David Hunter.

Hunter waged an aggressive campaign in the southern Valley forcing Lee to dispatch Jubal Early and his Second Corps to face the Union Army. Early forced the Union forces out of the Valley and proceeded to march north into Maryland. He eventually threatened Washington, forcing Grant to send a corps to protect the city.

He returned to the Valley but Grant appointed Philip Sheridan to command the Army of the Shenandoah. Sheridan conducted an aggressive campaign against Early, eventually annihilating the Second Corps and forcing the remnants to rejoin Lee. The Valley was lost as a breadbasket for the Confederacy.

Robert E. Lee had a purely defensive strategy. His initial goal was two-fold: preserve his army from attrition and defend Richmond. With an army that on occasion half the size of the Army of the Potomac, Lee would become the master of the terrain of his native state. He used every topographical feature that was available to his army.

He fought a masterful defensive campaign during May and June of 1864. Battles in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and North Anna featured the Confederates skillful use of the terrain to bleed the Union Army. Outnumbered almost 2-to-1 his army inflicted 55,000 casualties on their enemy while sustaining 33,600. However, the Confederate losses represented about half of their army.

Grant knew that he could bleed Lee’s army while his own armies had a much larger pool of manpower available. However, looming in November was the Presidential election. Lincoln needed victories in the field in order to fend off the challenge from George McClellan, the Democrat nominee. The rising casualty lists would drive the voters into the arms of the Democrats unless they saw the hope of victory on the horizon.

Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee realized that their only hope of achieving independence was the defeat of Abraham Lincoln at the polls.  1864 would therefore become the most important year of the war. Victory would hang in the balance for the greater part of the year.





The Armies of the Union in May 1864

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

Battle of the WildernessUlysses S. Grant was named General-in-Chief on March 9, 1864. He was one month shy of his forty-second birthday. Grant immediately began to formulate a new coordinated strategy for the field armies of the Union.

His strategy called for coordinated offensives against the Confederate armies in order to prevent them to keep the Confederates from shifting reinforcements within southern interior lines. Grant had realized early on in the Western Theater that defeating the Confederate armies rather than capturing geographical objectives must be the goal of the Union armies.

‘Wear them down and grind them up’ were the keys to this war of attrition. With the Union’s overwhelming industrial strength and its population superiority Grant knew that the Union armies would eventually destroy the Southern Confederacy’s will to resist. The only things that stood in the way of this bloody strategy would be the political will of the Union leaders and the war weariness of the North’s civilian population.

As Grant formulated and implemented his strategy he had at his disposal a number of military formations.

In the Western Theater, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman had been promoted to overall command of all Union armies in the region. Technically, he was commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Within his division  Sherman had three different armies at his command. At the start of the campaign Sherman had 95,000 men, a number that increased to 112,000 by June. This was more than double the Confederate’s manpower.

The Army of the Tennessee had been under the command and Sherman. It now was commanded by Major General James B. McPherson, a 35-year old former engineer. His army included the corps of Maj. Gen. John A. Logan (XV Corps), Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge (XVI Corps), and Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair, Jr. (XVII Corps).

Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield‘s Army of the Ohio, consisting of his own XXIII Corps and a cavalry division commanded by Maj. Gen. George Stoneman.

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas‘s Army of the Cumberland, including the corps of Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard (IV Corps), Maj. Gen. John M. Palmer (XIV Corps), Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (XX Corps), and Brig. Gen. Washington L. Elliott (Cavalry Corps).

Sherman’s goals were two-fold: the capture of the key rail junction of Atlanta and the destruction of the Confederate’s Army of Tennessee in battle. With the capture of the city, Sherman would then be in a position to eviscerate the Deep South.

The balance of the armies were in the Eastern Theater. The largest and most well-known was the Army of the Potomac commanded by Major General George Gordon Meade. Meade’s army consisted of three infantry and one cavalry corps. In addition there was one corps, the IX under Major General Ambrose Burnside, that reported directly to Grant rather than Meade.

At the start of the Overland Campaign this force totaled totaled 118,700 men and 316 guns. They were opposed by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia with 64,000 men and 274 guns. The goal of Meade’s army was to engage the Confederates in constant battle while driving them east toward Richmond.

The Army of the Potomac was to be aided by Major General Benjamin Butler‘s Army of the James. Butler’s mission was to deploy his 33,000-man army via the James River to the Virginia Peninsula and strike northwest to Richmond. The objective was not to capture the Confederate capital directly, but to cut the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad—a critical Southern supply line—and force Lee to send reinforcements to that front, weakening him against Grant and Meade.

Butler’s army consisted of two corps, the X under Major General Q.A.Gillmore with three divisions and the XVIII under Major General W.F.Smith with three divisions. He also had at least 20 batteries of artillery and various cavalry and engineering units under his command.

Major General Franz Siegal commanded the Union Army of West Virginia. Grant commanded Siegal to invade the Shenandoah Valley and destroy Robert E. Lee’s supply lines by driving south and capturing the key city of Lynchburg. Unfortunately, Siegal was only given 10,000 men to accomplish his goals. After his defeat at the Battle of New Market on May 15th, he was relieved and replaced by Major General David Hunter.

Brigadier General George Crook was ordered by Grant to take his Kanawha Division and attack the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, Richmond’s primary link to Knoxville and the southwest, and to destroy the Confederate salt works at Saltville, Virginia. Once he had accomplished this mission he was to was to march east and join forces with Major General Franz Sigel, who meanwhile was to be driving south up the Shenandoah Valley.

Brigadier General William W. Averell was ordered to conduct a cavalry raid against Saltville but he was repulsed at the Battle of Cove Mountain, in Wythe County, Virginia. In this engagement Averell had one cavalry brigade of 2,500 while his opponent, Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones, had a force of 4,000.