Confederate Army

The Coming of War

A he military tasks facing the Federal government in 1861 were considerable because the authority of the National Government had to be reasserted across a very large geographical area—the recently formed southern Confederacy. This enormous region could not be adequately garrisoned to hold the rebelling states in the Union and there were no major objectives that would produce a decisive impact on the morale of the new nation. This rebellion had begun with the seizure by the Confederacy of all of the territory it sought to dominate; in contrast to the complicated task facing Union leaders, the new political leadership of the South had only to defend its territorial boundaries j achieve its political goals.

Northern military strategists were left with no choice other than to establish the Federal government as the aggressor, with the aim of invading and occupying the defended territory of the seceding states. Politically, the role of aggressor was less than desirable: public support, which always runs high for the defense of home and hearth in any society, generally ebbs when a government undertakes an aggressive campaign.

Strategic goals were set for both sides soon after President Lincoln asked for seventy-live thousand volunteers to aid in the suppression of the rebellion. The border states— especially Virginia—refused to become a part of a campaign to attack other southern states

Confederate Army

Confederate soldiers began to assemble in large numbers as the winds of war began to blow. Based on volunteer and militia units that had been formed following the John Brown attack at Harper's Ferry, volunteer groups such as this one (Virginia's First Regiment) were made up of men who had drilled and served together— a distinct advantage over their inexperienced Federal opponents.

Confederate soldiers began to assemble in large numbers as the winds of war began to blow. Based on volunteer and militia units that had been formed following the John Brown attack at Harper's Ferry, volunteer groups such as this one (Virginia's First Regiment) were made up of men who had drilled and served together— a distinct advantage over their inexperienced Federal opponents.

and eventually seceded. The secession of Virginia was critical in the development of hostilities at this early juncture in what had been, up to then, a bloodless revolution.

Virginia was possibly the most influential state in the country at the time. Nearly one half of the presidents who had served had been sons of the Old Dominion. Many of the settlers who had migrated into newly developed regions in the territories that had become states had originally been Virginians. Proud of their state and its rich heritage, Virginians called the state the "Mother of Presidents" and the "Mother of States." Virginia had a large population, a diversified agricultural system, and levels of industry that could support sustained military operations conducted by large armies in the field. Once Virginia's people had cast their lot with the new Confederacy, the national planners of the South were quick to ensure the Mother of States remained there by moving the capital of the upstart nation to Richmond. Virginia was the key to the rebellion's survival—it gave the rebels the strength that shifted the political and military balance in their favor. Virginia gave the Confederacy a chance for military victory.

Once the stage was set for open warfare, the armies of the North were placed into the uncomfortable role of invader and occupier. The strategic task of the Confederacy was to be that of the defender. One side would

ÏNTRnni mnw invade and the other side would resist. The essentials for Civil War strategy had been set.

The initial strategic planning for the Federal government was conducted by General Winfield Scott, a seventy-five-year-old Virginian soldier who had learned his trade during the Napoleonic period. In the first half of the nineteenth century, however, military strategy had evolved, and up-to-date general principles of warfare had been developed. Younger officers in the national army were skilled in these new approaches to war, but Scott was in command. He began planning the upcoming campaign as if it were an assault on a single fortress, not an entire nation. The initial plan consisted of what was essentially an enormous siege of the Confederacy. Naval forces were ordered into blockade positions and plans were devel

oped to move armies—once these were raised, trained, and equipped—along rivers in order to divide and seize the South one section at a time. Ridiculed initially, Scott's "Anaconda Plan" would gradually form the foundation of the Union's war strategy.

The most recent military experience of the time had been the Napoleonic wars, series of quick campaigns by large forces against critical positions or smaller forces of the enemy that had resulted in quick, decisive victories. Northern politicians, concerned about the next elections, and younger officers, who were impatient to get into the field, desired a quick war; soon, the Federal army was prepared for offensive action instead of a prolonged siege. The war was beginning as an enormous chess game with the most valuable position on the chess board—in the eyes of the Union army— being Richmond, Virginia, the heart of the South. The strategy to be used was simple: march south approximately one hundred miles from Washington, D.C., capture Richmond, and end the Civil War. The Federal army would encounter the army of the Confederacy along the route as the southern forces attempted to dispute the passage, and a large, decisive battle—similar to those fought by Napoleon—would occur.

Most of the young officers in either army had received training in military tactics while in such military academies as West Point and the Virginia Military Institute. The curriculum included courses in tactics that were derived from the theories of war that had been developed by a Swiss-born officer who had served on the staff of one of Napoleon's marshalls. This man, Jomini, had studied the campaigns of historical leaders such as Napoleon and Caesar and developed practical guides to war planning, and to combat itself. In the United States, Heniy W. Halleck, "Old Brains" of the pre-Civil War national army, had analyzed Jomini's writings and agreed that strategy was

The Creek Confederacy
Federal commanders General Henry W. Halleck (top), nicknamed "Old Brains"for his scholarly analyses of tactics, and General Winfield Scott (above, seated, with his staff around him) began to plan for offensive operations against the New Confederacy.

simply the art of directing masses to the decisive points of the enemy. Unfortunately, the Confederacy was large and there were no single, clearly defined points that were critical to the survival of the South. In addition, Jomini had identified approaches to be used by forces entering into combat. One of these, "interior lines," shortcuts that afforded rapid troop movement for attack or reinforcement, presented advantages to the army possessing them. In the eyes of Federal planners, the Confederacy had the advantage of interior lines because it was operating defensively while the Union forces were left with the less useful "exterior lines," which rendered the movement of troops to threatened points more time-consuming. The South could move from one threatened location to another after fighting defensive actions more quickly than the Union army could strengthen attacking columns across the exterior lines it was condemned to utilize. The southern defenders were in the best strategic position and there was little the North could do to change this fact.

Major General Halleck's view of national strategy combined with the Jominian requirement for the maintenance of interior lines of communication produced the planning for the first major Federal offensive of the Civil War. The basic principles of war were closely followed as Brigadier General Irvin McDowell concentrated his force of thirty-five thousand men at Washington, D.C. He and the troops then began to move in the direction of Richmond, a decisive point as defined by their most current theory. The planned march of the Union's concentrated force would give them the advantage of the coveted interior lines while forcing their opponents to move against them along exterior lines.

Unfortunately for the inexperienced Federal strategists, a combination of Confederate intelligence operations, railroads that permitted the rapid movement of rebel troops along those exterior lines, and inexperienced Union units and commanders led to a military and political disaster near Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861. This left the Eastern theater of operations in a stalemate from which it was slow to recover. Meanwhile, Union forces were beginning to move aggressively in the West.

The battle fought at Manassas in 1861, Bull Run, was very important and quite bloody, but like most of the Civil War's battles it was not crucial to the outcome of the war itself. Wars are fought for the impact they have on the politics of either side, and the battles that have the most political impact are the most decisive. Large, complex, and violent battles were frequently fought during the course of the Civil War as each army sought to force the other to move into less

Battlefield Mines

desirable terrain or to destroy the enemy. These battles, lacking a strong political impact, are more accurately described as "transition battles," during which the armies maneuvered to locate critical points where a future defeat of the enemy would create substantial political damage.

The Confederacy was able to prevail in many of the early transition battles—Bull Run, Wilson's Creek, and Lexington—but Federal forces would ultimately prove the usefulness of Scott's original strategy of utilizing combined army and naval operations under an aggressive commander at Fort Donelson. A second crucial battle would result in a tactical standoff, but a political victory, at Antietam as large armies were assembled and northern manufacturing capabilities were fully mobilized for a long war.

Sibley Tent Manufacturers

Largely unprepared for the details of a drawn-out conflict, men from both sides of the Mason-Dixon suffered from the effects of the elements during the winters. Here, troops move to bivouac positions in Sibley tents.

Confederate Military Strategy

Military academies such as West Point in the North and Virginia's Military Institute in the South provided young officers for the new armies. These West Point cadets are graduating into careers that would see differing degrees of glory, death, and destruction.

chapter chapter

Fort Donelson

A Disastrous Blow

espite the obvious stalemate that developed along hostile lines on the eastern front. Union military operations in the west were far more successful. Winfield Scott, the commanding general of the United States Army in 1861, had proposed to place the entire Confederacy under siege, a gigantic maneuver designed to prevent the export of cotton, which was a principal means by which the rebels raised the funds needed to import arms and war materials. Scott also planned to use Union naval power along southern rivers to penetrate deeply into the interior of the Confederacy and slowly dismember it. Union politicians and the general population in the North, however, were unwilling to agree to a slow, methodical strategy; instead they pressed for rapid victories.

Scott yielded to this political pressure and agreed to attack Richmond in a plan that resulted in the major military and political defeat at Bull Run. This loss and the timidity of George McClellan—the victor in relatively minor, but highly publicized, victories in western Virginia—who replaced the aging Scott, led directly to the stalemate of 1861.

Federal forces in the Mississippi Valley, however, were soon to begin operations against Confederate defenders in the region. Much as Scott had planned, Union naval forces, combined with large Federal military units, began to move along the navigable rivers that extended deep into the Confederacy. The Tennessee River, in particular, offered great tactical advantages to the invaders: it was large, navigable by large steamers, and presented a virtual highway into the undefended rear areas of Confederate forces in both Kentucky and Tennessee. Once this river system was securely held, Union forces could use it as a vast line of communications to deliver supplies and reinforcements as attackers moved toward either the Mississippi River or to the east to threaten Richmond, the newly established Confederate capital.


The Supplies For The Confederate ArmyBlack Confederate SoldiersConfederate Army

Forts Henry and Donelson

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