American Civil War

American Civil War



American Civil War


Greatest war in American History

Three Million fought – 900000 Confederacy (south) vs. 2.1 million Union (north)
620000 dead – 4% male population

Higher losses than any other US war
4year struggle – made US into a superpower

Began April 1861

  • Protest over election of the anti-slavery Abraham Lincoln – 3.5 million slaves at this point
  • 11 southern states seceded from the union – formed confederacy
  • War fought to preserve the union


  • Why did the south lose? – internal explanation
  • Why did the North win? – external explanation

George Pickett – ‘I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it’

Why did the war last so long?


‘The last Napoleonic War’
‘The First Total War’

The First Modern War?
Us historians = All modern elements of warfare bar air power and poison gas


  • submarines
  • armoured ships (ironclads)
  • trains
  • telegraph
  • balloon spotting

Paddy Griffith thesis:

  • Armies similar size to Napoleonic wars
  • Battles fought at similar range – 150 yards
  • Cavalry still can play decisive role – Phil Sheridan
  • Mostly indecisive battles as incompetent at Napoleonic tactics
  • Europeans saw them as amateurs
  • Von Moltke – ‘two armed mobs chasing each other across the country’

Idea of Transitional War:

  • Most generals studied Baron Jomini – Summary of the Art of War
  • Sought decisive battles with opposing armies
  • Last phase of the war a pointer to WW1
  • No machine guns – introduced 1866 (Gatling gun)




  • Army of Northern Virginia
  • Southern Icon – Christ like
  • Officer and a Gentleman

Overwhelming resources of the North

Failed to secure outside intervention recognition from Britain/ France with cotton trading – they ignored conflict.

Wrong strategy?

Bad Luck? – Lee’s lost orders as Antietam, loss of Stonewall Jackson


  • defend all territory – dispersed resources = bad (not a Napoleonic tactic)
  • Political generals in west = bad


  • ablest corps commander
  • Shenandoah Valley campaign
  • Foot cavalry
  • 1863 – Chancellorsville
  • Lee – ‘I have lost my right arm’


  • Greatest asset = cotton – 80% to UK – withheld from the start to seek recognition/intervention  - no success at UK found other suppliers e.g. Egypt.

Textiles = North’s main export – South thought war would cause recession – BUT Northern economy thrives on war – wheat becomes main export

South Lost revenue = 9000% inflation.



WHY DID THE NORTH WIN? – ‘Biggest battalions’ thesis


  • resolute
  • preserve the union
  • free slaves
  • Unconditional surrender – no negotiation – characteristic of TOTAL WAR


  • population of north = 22million vs. 9 million in the south
  • industrialisation
  • Finances – war costs $2 million per day – affordable – income taxes, bonds
  • Logistics
  • Biggest Navy = naval blockade

Federal Strategy – ANACONDA PLAN (boa constrictor)

  • slow strangulation
  • blockade of south with Navy – no trade
  • cut confederacy in half – Mississippi
  • Capture Richmond – capital



  • Expectation of quick finish – Battle of Bull Run
  • Size of confederacy = size of Western Europe
  • 1862 – 45% Federal Army engaged in occupation
  • Incompetence/ timidity
  • Blockade took time to set up – 3300 mile coastline
  • South fighting on interior lines – knows terrain better 



  • Most intensive fighting
  • Capitals to defend
  • Washington & Richmond 120 miles apart


War in the East 1861-1863

  • Series of fluctuating campaigns
  • Confederate wins or draws
  • No knockout blow



Robert E. Lee – Northern tactics

  • No grand strategy – focus on Eastern theatre – neglects west
  • Seeks victory on northern soil – Antietam Sept 1862, Gettysburg July 1863
  • Traditionalist – Jomini theory – seeks decisive battle = heavy losses
  • Adept at defence – trained engineer = trenches 1864-1865


  • biggest battle
  • confederates find shoe factory – men meet
  • Union gets higher ground – Cemetary Ridge
  • 2 days indecisive
  • 3rd day Lee wants frontal assault
  • Largest artillery barrage by Confederates – 2 hour bombardment, 160 guns – think they win
  • Under Pickett 15000 confederates advance – union guns destroy them, only 100 survive
  • 1/3 of Lee’s army lost
  • Confederates never again attack offensively


  • ‘Gibraltar of the West ‘ – on Mississippi, strategic position
  • Cuts confederacy in two
  • Mississippi River entirely in Union hands



  • Succession of Failures – George B.McClellan ‘the young Napoleon – too timid, Burnside – disaster at Fredericksburg, Hooker – lost his nerve.


ULYSSES S. GRANT - Appointed March 1864

  • ‘Never call retreat’
  • ‘I will fight them on this line of it takes all summer’
  • Now a continuous war

New Version of Anaconda Plan

  • Meade Army of Potomac ordered to go wherever Lee went
  • Sherman ordered to march through Georgia and destroy Tennessee

Simultaneous campaigning in East and West

1964 – Battle of the Wilderness – significant trench warfare
- Casualties increased considerably – 55000 dead
- Lee dug trenches, Grant looking to outflank him
- response = more trenches

  • Union lost 7000 in frontal attack
  • ‘Butcher’ Grant but Lincoln kept faith


  • ‘All war is hell’
  • Appointed Western armies commander March 1864
  • Burning of Atlanta

Railway junction – key strategic positions
Capture meant removing the capacity to move troops/supplies


  • Make civilians pay for supporting the war
  • Morale destroying – caused desertion of the army


KEY VICTORY 3rd Sept 1864

  • ensured Lincoln’s re-election
  • Still no negotiated peace – unconditional surrender
  • 80% troops voted for him



  • Georgia to South Carolina – 285 miles December 1864
  • Destroyed: 200miles railway, $20million in military property, $180million in civilian property – tactics of TOTAL WAR

Grant was a relentless opponent

  • continually seeking openings
  • Laid siege to Petersburg – protected southside railway into Richmond
  • Kept extending trenches – up to 50 miles long
  • Wears down Lee’s army – ‘thin grey line’
  • Line becomes too thin to be defended – leading to union breakthrough
  • Breakthrough – cavalry under Sheridan captured Five Forks railway – gave command of Southside Railway to North


2nd April 1865 – Lee abandons Petersburg and Richmond
Attempts to move south to link up with the Army of Tennessee

Escape blocked by Sheridan’s cavalry – much bigger than Lee’s army
9th April 1865 - Lee surrenders at Appomattox Court House – overwhelmed by numbers



  • North could always eventually prevail – Lincoln Dec 1864 – Union resources ‘inexhaustible’
  • Relentless attack
  • 1861-65 North GDP rose 50%, South GDP fell 46%



1861 – limited war – one battle view
1862 – fluctuating fortunes
1863 – turn of the tide
1864 – total war
1865 – total victory for North



  • Lee’s army down from 75000 in 1863 to under 50000 in 1865
  • Guerrilla warfare? Could have been more successful at wearing down North’s relentlessness
  • Lincoln feared spread of Missouri experience
  • Civil war came between 1st and 2nd industrial revolutions – no machine guns, long distance heavy artillery, tanks, planes


  • Fought 10 years later it would’ve been much more devastation
  • Showed values of offensive and defensive tactics – 1914-1918 showed that defensive tactics became popular.



November 6th 1860 – Abraham Lincoln elected President – 40 % of vote – opposing slavery
December 1860 – South Caroline secedes from Union, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas

Feb 1861 – The Confederate States of America formed with Jefferson Davis as Presicent
April 1861 – Confederates open fire upon Fort Sumter in Charleston, S. Carolina. Civil War begins
April 1861 – Lincoln issues a proclamation calling for 75,000 militia men
April 1861- Virginia secedes from union, followed by Arkansas, Tennessee and N.Carolina = 11 state Confederacy with population of 9 million
April 1861 – Lincoln issues a proclamation of Blockade against southern ports
April 1861 – Robert E. lee takes control of military and naval forces of Virginia
July 1861 – Lincoln and congress call for 500000 men
July 1861 – Union army under McDowell defeated at Bull Run. Jackson earns name ‘Stonewall’ as his troops resist attacks.
July 1861 – Lincoln replaces McDowell with McClellan
Sept 1861 – Lincoln revokes Fremont’s unauthorized military proclamation of emancipation in Missouri and replaces him with Hunter
Nov 1861 – Lincoln vs. British – Lincoln backs down – ‘one war at a time’

Jan 1862 – Lincoln calls for all US naval and land forces to begin general advance by Feb 22
Feb 1862 – Victory for Grant in Tennessee as he captures Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Earns nickname ‘Unconditional Surrender’ Grant.
March 1862 – Confederate Ironclad ‘Merrimac’ sinks two wooden Union ships, the battle Union ironclad ‘Monitor’ to a draw. Naval warfare changed forever – wooden ships become obsolete.
March 1862 – Peninsular campaign begins – Army of Potomac from Washington -> Richmond. Virginia advances towards Richmond.

April 1862 – Surprise attack on Grants troops at Shiloh on Tennessee River = bitter struggle, 13000 Union killed and wounded and 10000 confederates. Lincoln refuses to remove Grant.
April 1862 – 17 union ships under Farragut move up Mississippi and take New Orleans – best south seaport.
March 1862 – Battle of Seven Pines – Johnston’s army vs. McClellan’s in front of Richmond. Johnston badly wounded.
June 1862 – Lee takes over from Johnston – renames force the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan calls him ‘likely to be timid’
June 1862 – The Seven Days Battles – Lee vs. McClellan – heavy losses on both sides. McClellan withdraws back towards Washington.

Aug 1862 - 75000 Unions under Pope defeated by 55000 Confederates under Jackson at second battle of Bull Run, N. Virginia. Union retreats to Washington. Pope out.
Sept 1862 – Lee invades North with 50000 confederates and heads for Harpers Ferry – 50 miles northwest of Washington. Union army, 90000 strong, under command of McClellan pursues Lee.
Sept 1862 – Bloodiest day – Lee and confederates stopped in Antietam in Maryland by McClellan and larger Union forces. By night 26000 men are dead/wounded. Lee withdraws to Virginia.
Sept 1862 – Preliminary Emancipation proclamation freeing slaves issued by president Lincoln.
Nov 1862 – Lincoln replaces McClellan with Burnside as new commander of army of the Potomac – frustrated with McClellan’s slowness/timidity.
Dec 1862 – Army of Potomac under Burnside suffers costly defeat at Fredericksburg in Virginia – total loss of 12653 men after 14 frontal assaults on well entrenched Confederates who lose 5309.

Jan 1863 – Lincoln issues final Emancipation proclamation freeing all slaves in confederate territories – war to preserve Union also becomes revolutionary struggle for abolition of slavery
Jan 1863 – Lincoln replaces Burnside with Hooker
Jan 1863 – Grant placed in command of Army of the West with orders to capture Vicksburg
March 1863 – Congress enacts a draft – male citizens 20-45 but exempts those who pay $300 or provide substitute
May 1863 – Union Army under Hooker defeated by Lee’s smaller forces at Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia as a result of Lee’s brilliant tactics. Jackson mortally wounded by own soldiers. Hooker retreats. Union = 17000 killed/wounded out of 13000. Confederate = 13000 out of 60000.
May 1863 – Stonewall Jackson dies.
June 1863 – Lee with 75000 confederates launches second invasion of the North, heading into Pennsylvania
June 1863 – Lincoln replaces Hooker with Meade.

July 1863 – Confederates defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg
July 1863 – Vicksburg – last confederate stronghold on Mississippi River surrenders to Grant after 6 week siege. Confederacy split in two.
July 1863 – Anti-draft riots in New York, army restores order.
Aug 1863 – Pushing for equality for Union ‘negro troops’. Quantrill butchers at Kansas

Sept 1863 – Confederate victory by Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at Chickamauga, Union army of the Cumberland trapped in Chattanooga, Tennessee under Confederate siege.
Oct 1863 – Lincoln appoints Grant to command all operations in the Western theatre.
Nov 1863 – Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Nov 1863 – Rebel siege of Chattanooga ends as Unions under Grants defeat siege army of Bragg. Avenge defeat at Chickamauga

March 1864 – Lincoln appoints Grant to command all armies of the US. Sherman takes over as commander in the west
May 1864 – beginning of coordinated Union attack – Grant’s army in Virginia (120000) advances to Richmond to meet Lee’s army (64000) – begins war of attrition that includes major battles at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbour. Sherman with 100000 men advances towards Atlanta to engage Johnston’s 60000 strong army of Tennessee.

June 1864 – Costly mistake by Grant results in 7000 Union casualties in 20 mins during offensive against fortified rebels at Cold Harbor, Virginia
June 1864 – Union forces miss change to capture Petersburg and cut of confederate railways – 9 month siege of Petersburg begins – Grant’s forces surrounding Lee’s.
July 1864 – Atlanta – Sherman’s troops battle rebels under Hood.
Aug 1864 – Democrats nominate McClellan to run for President against Republican Lincoln.
Sept 1864 – Atlanta captured by Sherman’s army – helps Lincoln’s re-election
Oct 1864 – decisive union victory by Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley over Early’s troops
Nov 1864 – Lincoln re-elected with 55% of vote

Nov 1864 – Sherman burns Atlanta then with 62000 men begins March to the Sea
Dec 1864 – Hood’s Rebel Army of 23000 crushed at Nashville by 55000 Union troops under Thomas – Tennessee army finished
Dec 1864 – Sherman reaches Savannah, Georgia leaving behind a 300mile path of destruction 60 miles wide all the way from Atlanta

Jan 1865 – Congress approves 13th Amendment to abolish slavery
Feb 1865 – Unsuccessful peace conference in Virginia, only Lee and Johnston’s men left fighting.
March 1865 – Lee’s last offensive begins with attack on centre of Grant’s forces at Petersburg. Four hours later the attack is broken.
April 1865 – Grant’s forces breakthrough Lee’s lines at Petersburg. Confederate General Hill killed. Lee abandons Petersburg and Richmond.
April 1865 – Lee surrenders Confederate Army to Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.



Big difference between Why the North won and Why the South lost. Not the same question.

Lee stated it was because of the north’s superior numbers and greater economic capacity

  • But this was apparent before the war – foolish southerners?
  • Or were superior numbers and resources not the real reason behind it? – other nations have won with less men and supplies – Vietnam?

Confederacy rife with internal conflicts and undermined morale with no nationalism?

Ramsdell – Failure of southern leaders to solve problems of economic mobilization and finance = shortages, inflation, transport breakdowns and corruption which alienated the home front who didn’t therefore support the army.
Confederates states = 2/5 slaves, 2/5 non slave holding white families
Even slave holding families lost faith in the war – women who lost husbands and sons.
Is this why the south lost?

Freehling – non-slave holding whites still had a racial, cultural and economic stake in the war – remained loyal to the confederacy to the end.
But half of all southerners opposed the Confederacy which led to failure.
Defines south as all 15 slave states and southerners as all people who lived there – slave and free. Distinction between the ‘south’ and the confederacy.
Davis – Poor leadership at several levels, both military and civilian – factionalism, dissension, bickering. Only exceptions Lee and Jackson.
Conflict between state governors and Confederate government, between cabinet officers, between Jefferson Davis and generals/ senators/ his vice president. – Lee and Beauregard blamed Davis for losing the war.
Internal stresses caused by inflation, shortages, hunger.
But is conflict exaggerated?

Gallagher – Still problems of infighting in society – but comparatively better than divides in north.
Confederates v. determined even in face of great adversity.
Southern defeat more to do with military defeat than dissolution behind the lines. Factors such as political and military leadership, economic mobilization, logistics, strategy, war aims, morale, social strains, diplomacy and luck all played a part.   
Northern numbers and resources helped – but this was backed up by skill that grew through the conflict
Hard to understand the south’s motives for trying to preserve slavery


Internal conflict is not a fair reason as to why the south lost – the north faced conflict and Lincoln went through a lot of generals in a short time – a focus on strategy is more relevant.
Studies of victorious generals and their strategies – Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Wellington etc.

Kark von Clausewitz – War is a continuation of politics.
Successful war requires policy, national strategy and military strategy to be all in sync = total war – all aimed to achieve unconditional surrender.
Bad war = Vietnam – LBJ refused to increase taxes to fun it – military and national out of sync…..Gulf War – stopped fighting once Iraqi’s were out of Kuwait.

Lincoln skilful as he was able to shape a define policy and put into place a military strategy to achieve it. Eloquent leader.
Davis – lacked Lincoln’s ability to take criticism. Policy – seceding from the union suggested a defensive military strategy – but it began the war in possession of all the territory it owned – contradictory.

Spread across whole line – ‘thin grey line’ vs. build up numbers at strategic positions.
Lack of unity between states meant leaving some areas undefended was impossible – they refused to have their state undefended. Armies were state armies, not armies of the south. In contrast the northern army was all linked and willing to do whatever it took to win the war.

Source: http://moodle.suttongrammar.sutton.sch.uk/pluginfile.php/3396/mod_resource/content/1/LW_AMERICAN_CIVIL_WAR_NOTES.doc

Web site to visit: http://moodle.suttongrammar.sutton.sch.uk/

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American Civil War


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