Struggle for the heartland

The Western Theater, delineated by the Appalachian Mountains in the east and the Mississippi River in the west, also included the states of Missouri and Arkansas. The states that were most perplexed about how to proceed at the outbreak of war included Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. The fact that the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, as well as two significant tributaries, the Cumberland and the Tennessee, flowed through this region made it all the more significant as a war zone. 'Whatever Nation gets ... control of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers,' concluded Union General William T. Sherman, 'will control the continent.'

This region was settled largely by Southerners, but it was tied geographically and economically to the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. This meant that economic exchanges with Northern markets were commonplace and thus a shared regional identity took shape in the pre-Civil War decades. Nowhere were loyalties more divided and the term a 'brother's war' more applicable than in the west. John L. Crittenden, the Kentucky politician who proposed the Crittenden Compromise months before, would have two sons who fought on opposite sides.

Volunteers came from all over the United States and filled the ranks of both armies as

Note the maze of rivers and railroads that afforded Union and Confederate armies strategic avenues to campaign in the west.

The Western Theater of war


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soon as the war broke out. Some 700,000 men mustered into the Northern armies during the initial months of the war. Most enlisted for three years' service. Out of approximately 1 million white males of military age. the Confederate Congress called on 500,000 men to enlist, which inspired hundreds of thousands to muster into service. Roughly 50 percent signed up for three years and the other half enlisted for 12 months.

Companies of 100 soldiers constituted the primary unit of organization on both sides. Theoretically, 10 companies made up a regiment, four or more regiments comprised a brigade, two or more brigades comprised a division, and two or more divisions comprised a corps. Companies and regiments were frequently raised from single communities and their officers were typically leaders in those communities. Officers with experience or education were frequently commanders of brigades, divisions, corps, and armies.

As armies began to take shape, so did military strategy. Reunion of Northerners

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and Southerners was the principal goal of Northern political and military leaders. Preservation of the Union was paramount to Union war aims, and politicians and commanders planned to fight a limited war for limited goals. By pledging to protect noncombatants and by respecting their constitutional guarantees (a strategy intended to attract Southerners back to the Union), the Union army could concentrate on fighting the Confederate army. But between 1861 and 1863. the means for obtaining reunion changed dramatically. The experience of fighting in the west brought about fundamental political and military changes that shifted and broadened Union war aims. Over time, winning the war became more important than winning the peace.

General-in-Chief Winfield Scott initially devised a strategic plan for the Union. The 'Anaconda Plan,' as it was known, called for Union forces to move down the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy, while blockading Southern ports in an attempt to strangle the economy. Scott's plan would require 300,000 well-trained men and would take two years to complete. Political and popular pressure to get the war moving, however, forced Scott to reconsider his overwhelming invasion plan. Still, using the waterways to strike at the Confederacy would ultimately prove to be a great advantage tor the Union.

Because slavery and states' rights were central to Southern life, the Confederate war effort struggled with building a nation founded on these beliefs while attempting to fight a war that did not necessarily serve these interests. To wage a war that did not deliberately protect slavery and preserve states' rights would diminish popular support for the conflict. Confederate political

Camp Jackson Missouri was a suburb of St Louis arid on 10 May 1861 it was the scene of a violent outbreak of war. After Nathaniel Lyon's troops had forced the surrender of Camp Jackson and its inhabitants, violence erupted that resulted in the death of 28 ctizens. They were mainly bystanders, including women and children. (Rewew of Reviews Company)

and military leaders therefore sought to wage a defensive war. Protection of the South and its institutions from invading armies became the overall strategy for the war in the west.

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