Lincoln’s Conciliationist Generals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Toward A Real Civil War: Spring and Summer 1861

This entry is part 2 of 18 in the series The Hard Hand of War

Ohio VolunteersThe antebellum United States Army had about 16,000 officers and men. Of these about one-quarter of the officer corps resigned to join the Confederate Army. At the onset of the war both armies were no better than armed mobs, untrained, undisciplined and unblooded. Both sides were simply groping toward civil war without a firm plan.

The U.S. Army consisted of ten regiments of infantry, four of artillery, two of cavalry, two of dragoons, and one of mounted infantry. The regiments were scattered widely. Of the 197 companies in the army, 179 occupied 79 isolated posts in the West, and the remaining 18 manned garrisons east of the Mississippi River, mostly along the Canada–United States border and on the Atlantic coast.

President Abraham Lincoln initially issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months to put down the “insurrection”. Some have said that the Union government was overly optimistic but in reality that was the limits of Lincoln’s legal authority. Until Congress reconvened he could only ask for that many volunteers.

While the army was forming, the Lincoln administration went about seeking ways to heal the breach between the North and the South. Many Northerners retained the belief that a settlement with the Southerners could be achieved without too much bloodshed. Those who supported General Scott believed as he did that quick, bloody action would push the Southern Unionists into supporting the secessionists. There was a significant group who was of the opposite opinion that quick action could ignite the Southern Unionists into action on the side of the Union.

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was on the side of those who pushed for quick, decisive. He wrote Lincoln that in his opinion the officer corps was making a fatal flaw by overestimating the strength of the secessionist spirit in the South. Blair predicted that if the North didn’t move rapidly then the South would only be subjugated by complete conquest.

As the spring moved into early summer and no offensive action was undertaken Lincoln began to have doubts in Scott’s policy of deliberation. The South had achieved a number of minor victories: the capture of the shipyard, the seizure of Harper’s Ferry and the minor but humiliating defeat at Big Bethel, Virginia.

Both the New York Tribune and the Chicago Tribune called for the Union army to drive on Richmond with the slogan, “Forward to Richmond.” General Irvin McDowellHowever, the majority of the nation’s newspapers continued to support General Scott’s plan of deliberately fencing the Confederates in. Scott hoped that by amassing huge armies in the east and west, he would discourage the Confederate troops. He was hoping that loyal citizens would rise up and prevent any further attacks, like Fort Sumter.

At the cabinet meeting on June 29th, Lincoln gave the Army command marching orders. He insisted that they advance as far as Manassas within two or three weeks. Scott resisted but eventually agreed to the order. By July 8th, Lincoln issued order for General Irvin McDowell, the field commander, to launch his offensive. McDowell launched his forces on July 16th.

McDowell had been a supply officer from 1848 until 1861. He was pushed for a field command by his mentor, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Although McDowell knew that his troops were inexperienced and unready, and protested that he was a supply officer, not a field commander, pressure from the Washington politicians forced him to launch a premature offensive against Confederate forces in Northern Virginia.

In order not to antagonize the Southern civilians, McDowell gave instructed his men to conduct themselves ” with as much forbearance and propriety as if they were at their own homes.”    

McDowell’s army met their Confederate counterparts near Manassas Junction on July 21st where an all-day battle ensued. His strategy during the First Battle of Bull Run was imaginative but ambitiously complex, and his troops were not experienced enough to carry it out effectively, resulting in an embarrassing rout. The Union defeat ended any hopes of a Confederate collapse and peaceful reconciliation. President Lincoln summoned Maj. Gen. George Brinton McClellan to take command of the Union Army in the East.                                                                                                                                         


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.


Union Spies: Lafayette C. Baker

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Lafayette Curry BakerMuch of the Union intelligence gathering was decentralized with the principal commanders employing their own network of agents. It has been said that Ulysses S. Grant had at least 100 spies throughout the Western Theater. Other commanders had their own networks. The President even had a spy, William Alvin Lloyd, to report directly to him.

One of the Union’s most daring spies was Lafayette Curry Baker who was rough-and-ready character who was not afraid of some violent work. Born in upstate New York in 1826, he moved to Michigan in his teens. In 1849, Baker joined the thousands who trekked to California after the discovery of gold.

Baker didn’t find gold but he found adventure. In San Francisco, he became a member of the Vigilance Committee, patrolling the fog-bound streets of the Barbary Coast at night in search of desperate criminals, or so Baker later advertised that adventurous episode of his life. In reality, he was a bouncer at a saloon and a police informer.

At the start of the war, Baker returned to the East where he endeavored to get an appointment as an officer. Unsuccessful in New York, he journeyed to Washington and sought an appointment with the General-in-Chief Winfield Scott in 1862. Pestering Scott’s aides, he finally got an appointment and dazzled the general with his plans for spying on the Confederates in Richmond.

Scott explained to Baker that his going to Richmond would not serve the Union Army’s needs. He needed detailed reports from the fields, how many men were in the Confederate Army of General P.G.T. Beauregard, where were they positioned, and where were they headed? How many pieces of field artillery did Beauregard have and how much rolling stock? All of this important data could not be found in the tearooms of Richmond, but in the field.

Baker assumed the identity of Sam Munson, a photographer, to infiltrate the Confederate lines. He was detained by Union troops who thought that he was a Confederate spy. Scott had him released and he crossed into Virginia where he was arrested by the Confederates as a spy.

He managed to get a note to General Beauregard and when he met in person he convinced him that he was a photographer. To make his story more believable, Baker gave Beauregard detailed information of Union troop movements, positions of heavy gun emplacements, and locations where ammunition and goods were stored.

After further interviews with Jefferson Davis and Vice-President Alexander Stephens, Baker was released on Davis’ orders and given a pass that allowed to photograph any of the southern military commanders, their troops, and camp sites, as he saw fit. However, he had no glass plates for photographs and that fact almost sent him to the hangman.

He was in Fredericksburg when he met several Confederate officers who he had photographed earlier. They were angry because they had not gotten their pictures. Growing suspicious, they had him arrested as a spy and when a real photographer revealed his camera to be useless, Baker realized that he could be executed. Using a penknife, he managed to loosen the bars and escape the prison and return to Union lines.

General Scott was so impressed that he made Baker a captain on the spot and put him in charge of his Intelligence Service. However, the truth was more mundane. He was, indeed, captured, and taken before Jefferson Davis who did not give him a pass to photograph the whole of the Confederacy but listened for some minutes to Baker’s inept lies and then pronounced him a spy and ordered him held for trial.

Baker did escape from the Richmond jail, then wandered for weeks through Virginia, living in shacks and the woods, stealing food where he could find it, as he desperately tried to regain the Union lines. He was picked up in Fredericksburg as a vagrant and later held as a spy, but he again escaped, this time with the help of local prostitute whom he had been staying with, and finally managed to return to Scott’s headquarters.

The information regarding Confederate forces he later relayed to Scott he had learned from a Union officer he had met in the Richmond prison and all of this information was outdated by the time Baker passed it on to Scott.

It was through his service for General Scott that Baker met Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton, who took Baker under his own wing. He became the Secretary’s personal secret agent, conducting close surveillance of those Stanton distrusted most, other members in Lincoln’s cabinet, and high-ranking officers who were Lincoln’s appointments.

Stanton also wanted Allan Pinkerton out of the way as head of the Union Intelligence Service. Pinkerton answered only to Lincoln, and Stanton resented that. He, Edwin Stanton, should be in complete charge of the war, not this well meaning but uninformed Lincoln.

Stanton, through Baker’s intrigues, discredited Pinkerton, and, equally, General George McClellan, who had taken over the army, brilliantly organized and trained it to a peak fighting machine but proved indecisive in battle. Baker spent much of this time discovering McClellan’s mistakes and having reports of his blunders brought before Lincoln, or leaked to the Union press.

Pinkerton was relieved of duty after the Battle of Antietam for a supposed inability to learn of the true strengths and positions of Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee. Stanton proposed that Baker be promoted to command the Intelligence Service with rank of full colonel.

Apparently, Baker’s techniques were identical to those he had practiced in San Francisco as a vigilante. He terrorized, threatened, and blackmailed suspects, both Union and Confederate, to obtain information. For three years, he continued to operate a haphazard espionage system for the North but most of his information was learned second-hand from scouts working directly for Union cavalry commands. He continued to have some spies behind the Confederate lines but Pinkerton had picked the best of these first.

Baker bragged that there is no single Confederate spy or agent behind Union lines who is unknown to him. Yet, flourishing within Washington were dozens of conspirators all plotting the assassination of the President. One group met regularly only a few blocks from Baker’s offices throughout the early part of 1865. Its leaders were, John Surratt, Jr. and a vainglorious actor from an illustrious theatrical family, John Wilkes Booth.

Within two days of his arrival in Washington from New York, Baker’s agents in Maryland had made four arrests and had the names of two more conspirators, including the actual presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Before the month was out, Booth along with David Herold were found holed up in a barn and Booth was himself shot and killed. Baker was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and received a generous share of the $100,000 reward.

However, Baker was sacked from his position as government spymaster by President Johnson who accused him of spying on him, a charge Baker admitted in his book which he published in response. He also announced that he had had Booth’s diary in his possession which was being suppressed by the Department of War and Secretary Stanton. When the diary was eventually produced, Baker claimed that eighteen vital pages were missing. It was suggested that these would implicate Stanton in the assassination.

Lafayette C. Baker died in 1868, supposedly from meningitis. However, his death was as mysterious as some parts of his life. Using an atomic absorption spectrophotometer to analyze several hairs from Baker’s head, Ray A. Neff, a professor at Indiana State University, determined the man was killed by arsenic poisoning rather than meningitis. He had been unwittingly been consuming it for months, mixed into imported beer provided by his wife’s brother.


General Winfield Scott

General Winfield ScottToday, we remember the names of many of the generals who led the Union and Confederate armies. The names of Robert E. Lee, George McClellan, Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses Grant and Joseph E. Johnston are but a few of these illustrious leaders. Yet, the name of  General Winfield Scott who set the stage for the ultimate Union victory is often overlooked.

Winfield Scott was the United States Army’s Commanding General at the start of the war. He established many of the early objectives for the Union army. It was his idea to completely blockade the Southern ports, thereby denying the South of the benefit from the cotton production. He established the plan to split the Confederacy down the Mississippi River and deny them the use of the river. It also split them from the valuable sources of supply in Trans-Mississippi America.

Who was this general? Winfield Scott was a Virginian by birth, being born on June 13, 1786  at the family plantation in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, near Petersburg. He briefly attended College of William and Mary, studied law in the office of a private attorney, and served as a Virginia militia cavalry corporal near Petersburg in 1807. The following year Scott was commissioned a captain in the light artillery.

Scott’s early career in the army was tumultuous. Scott openly criticized the then Commanding General of the Army, James Wilkinson. Scott was court-martialed for insubordination in 1810 and had his commission suspended for one year. Afterwards, he served in New Orleans on staff of General Wade Hampton from 1811 to 1812.

The War of 1812 against the British made Winfield Scott into one of the most well-known soldiers in America. In June 1812, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and served primarily on the Niagara front. In October, 1812, he led an American landing party across the Niagara River at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Most New York militia members refused to cross into Canada in support of the invasion, and the British compelled New York militia commander Brigadier General William Wadsworth and Scott, the Regular Army commander, to surrender.

After Scott was exchanged, he was promoted to colonel in March 1813. Scott planned and led the capture of Fort George, Ontario, Canada, beside the Niagara River. The operation used landings across the Niagara and on the Lake Ontario coast and forced the British to abandon Fort George. Colonel Scott suffered wounds at this battle which is considered among the best planned and executed operations of the United States Army during the War of 1812.

Scott was promoted to the rank of brigadier general on March 19, 1814. He was only 27 years old at the time and one of the youngest generals in American Infantry attacking at Lundy's Lanethe history of the United States Army.

Scott commanded the 1st Brigade, proving largely instrumental in decisive American successes at the Battle of Chippewa on July 5, 1814. He played an instrumental role in the bloody Battle of Lundy’s Lane on July 25th, but suffered serious wounds. For his valor at Lundy’s Lane, Scott received a brevet (i.e. an honorary promotion) to major general to date from July 25, 1814. However, the severity of his wounds prevented his return to active duty for the remainder of the war.

Over the course of the next 45 years, Winfield Scott led American troops in the Seminole Wars, the Creek War and the Mexican War. In 1841, Scott became Commanding General of the United States Army, a position which he held until November 1861.

At the start of the American Civil War, Winfield Scott was 74 years old and suffering numerous health problems, including gout and dropsy. He was also extremely overweight (he weighed over 300 pounds) and unable to mount a horse or review troops. Although he was born and raised in Virginia, Scott remained loyal to the nation that he had served for most of his life and refused to resign his commission upon his home state’s secession.

Despite his infirmities, Winfield Scott continue to have a keen strategic mind. He drew up a complicated plan to defeat the Confederacy by blockading Southern ports and then sending an army down the Mississippi Valley to outflank the Confederacy.

His Anaconda Plan was derided in the press. However, in its broad outlines, it was the strategy the Union actually used, particularly in the Western Theater and in the somewhat successful naval blockade of Confederate ports. Though the blockade did prevent most sea-going vessels from leaving or arriving to points along the Confederate coast line, a fair number of blockade-runners made their way through. They typically carried cargoes of basic supplies, arms, and mail.

However, Lincoln gave in to public pressure for a victory within 90 days and rejected the Anaconda Plan, but the eventual strategy used by the The Anaconda PlanUnion in 1864–65 was largely based on Scott’s original plan.

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the Union field commander, was anxious for Scott to be pushed aside. Political pressure from McClellan’s supporters in Congress led to Scott’s resignation on November 1, 1861. McClellan then succeeded him as general-in-chief. Although officially retired, Scott was still occasionally consulted by Lincoln for strategic advice during the war.

Winfield Scott died at West Point, New York on May 29, 1866 and is buried in West Point Cemetery, having served his country in war and peace for over 53 years.


American Civil War Generalship

American Civil War Generalship

Mexican War PaintingGeneralship in the American Civil War was an uneven skill. None of the Army commanders had ever led planned tactics or led large groups of troops in combat. Those who were career military men were junior officers during the Mexican War. Before that war the peacetime United States Army was small force numbering around 7,400. It swelled with volunteers who enlisted for the duration. Then it returned to its former size after the conflict was over. By comparison many Civil War divisions were the size of the entire pre-Mexican War army. At the beginning of the Civil Warthe Army consisted of 1,080 commissioned officers and 15,000 enlisted men.

The general officers that commanded during the Mexican War were long gone by the time of the Civil War with the exception of Winfield Scott who was the Commanding General of the United States. Scott was approaching 75 when the war began and held the position until November 1861 when he resigned due to ill health. In the intervening months Scott had drawn up a complicated plan that he named Anaconda because he expected that it would choke the South with a coastal blockade and the closure of the Mississippi River. It was substantially the same plan that the North used to defeat the Southern Confederacy.

Robert E. LeeRobert E. Lee was a staff officer during the war and was promoted to brevet major during the war. By the end of the war, he had received additional brevet promotions to Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel, but his permanent rank was still Captain of Engineers and he would remain a Captain until his transfer to the cavalry in 1855. Future Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had a similar career path as Lee.

The much younger Ulysses Grant was lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps but did see action. Most of the other officers of similar age had a similar rank. George Pickett, James Longstreet, Winfield Scott Hancock were also lieutenants.

At the onset of the war many of the Federal general officers were political appointees who had virtually no military experience. This was a situation that cost the Union Army dearly. Gradually the incompetents were weeded out and the better officers rose to higher command. Joshua LawrenceFrancis C. Barlow Chamberlain, a college professor, and Francis C, Barlow, a lawyer, for the North and John B. Gordon, a lawyer, for the South were three future generals that come to mind. (Barlow was my 2nd great grandfather’s commanding officer at Antietam). Eventually, there were many more like them.

The Civil War was fought in stages and dissimilar regions of the country. Let’s look at the various stages of the war. In the early stage, say from April 1861 to April 1862 the armies were no more than armed mobs. The commanders were not used to leading or maneuvering large groups of troops. First Manassas is a classic example of this. Anyone who thinks that this battle was anything but a clash of two armed mobs needs to reread accounts of the battle. On the Federal side the main goal was “On to Richmond” and most of the battles in this time period were attempts to capture the Confederate capital.

After a succession of near catastrophic defeats and close victories fought by inept generals Lincoln finally settled on Ulysses S. Grant who had won a succession of bloody battles in the Western Theater: Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, the capture of Vicksburg and battles around Chattanooga. Grant after his elevation to Commanding General selected officers who understood the the destruction of the Confederate armies and their supply lines were the two paramount goals of the Federal armies.

Of course, there were several deviations in this strategy: the Vicksburg campaign because it split the Confederacy in half comes to mind. Antietam was a meeting engagement that was precipitated by Lee’s invasion of the North, as was Gettysburg.

Many of the Federal generals rehabilitated their reputations in subordinate commands and by being transferred to different theaters. Joseph Hooker who was relieved of the command of the Army of the Potomac in late-June 1863 was instrumental in the Federal victories around Chattanooga in the fall of 1863.

George McClellanComparing early generalship to later generalship is like comparing apples to oranges. McClellan was the right officer for the Union up until Antietam. At Antietam he was afraid to risk the army that he had created against Lee’s much smaller force. If Grant, Sherman or Sheridan had commanded the Federal army the war probably would have ended right there with Lee’s army defeated in detail.

The consistency of the Confederate leadership in the East enabled them to hold out far longer than they should have. Lee was both an offensive genius and a more than competent defensive commander. His subordinate commanders were mostly graduates of West Point. Men like Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, Pickett, Lewis Armistead, Longstreet, Jubal Early and A.P. Hill were all West Pointers. Lee who had been the Superintendent from 1852 until 1885 was personally familiar with many of his future division and brigade commanders from his tour on the Hudson. His oldest son , a future general, Custis Lee graduated first in his class in 1854. It was the combination of superior generalship and dedicated soldiers that kept the Southern Confederacy in the war for so long.

From then to now West Point trains its officers to ‘pursue the enemy with the utmost audacity’ in the words of George S. Patton. At the battle of the Bulge Gen. Lawton J. Collins (Lightning Joe) was said to have told the British General Montgomery that the American Army organizes at the line of attack. And they did sweeping the enemy before them.

Up until modern times the United States military has always been a conscript army. In 1973 the United States instituted an all-volunteer force for all branches of the military. Previous to that we have had to create conscript armies by the use of a draft. The Civil War was no different. Both sides asked for and depended on volunteers for their armies. Eventually, due to casualty rates and the expansion of the fighting both sides resorted to conscription. The battles over conscription in the North and the South is a subject for another day.

From the middle of the war on generalship and leadership on both sides was similar. Their were competent officers and incompetent officers on each side. Eventually, the North, the side with the most men, material and industry won.