1862: A War For Freedom

During the Christmas season of 1861, the mood in Richmond was buoyant, while gloom prevailed in Washington. Despite the Union's naval triumph at Port Royal, the balance of military victories in 1861 lay with the Confederacy, while a diplomatic showdown between Britain and the United States threatened to add a second war to Abraham Lincoln's problems. In November a Union warship had stopped the British steamer Trent on the high seas and taken from it the Confederate diplomats James Mason and John Slidell, who were on their way to Europe to seek British and French diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy. Uproar ensued in London as the British government branded this action an outrageous violation of British neutrality and freedom of the seas. War loomed between Britain and the United States until the Union government backed down the day after Christmas and released Mason and Slidell. "One war at a time," was Lincoln's sage philosophy. But the letdown following this affair added to the despondency that gripped Washington in the early weeks of the new year.

The Trent affair had provoked a brief panic in Northern financial circles. Banks suspended specie payments (the backing of their notes in circulation with gold and silver) and Secretary to the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, found it difficult to sell bonds to finance the war. General McClellan fell ill with typhoid fever. From General Henry W. Halleck, commander of Union forces in Missouri and western Kentucky, came negative reports on the prospects for an advance in that theater. "It is exceedingly discouraging," said Lincoln. "The people are impatient; Chase has no money; the General of the Army has typhoid fever. The bottom is out of the tub."

Beginning in February 1862, news from military fronts transformed the moods in North and South. The first reports came from western Tennessee, where the joint efforts of Union army and naval forces won significant victories on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers which flow through Tennessee and Kentucky, emptying into the Ohio River just before it joins the Mississippi The unlikely hero of these victories was General Ulysses S. Grant, who had failed in several civilian occupations since resigning from the peacetime army in 1854. Rejoining the army when war broke out, he had demonstrated a quiet efficiency and determination that won him promotion from Illinois colonel to brigadier general, and command of a small but growing force based at Cairo, Illinois, in the fall of 1861. When Confederate units entered Kentucky in September, Grant moved quickly to occupy the mouths of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.

Jefferson Davis, photographed by Mathew Brady in 1861.

Unlike McClellan, who had known nothing but success in his career and was afraid to risk failure, Grant's experience of failure made him willing to take risks, having little to lose. He demonstrated that willingness dramatically in the early months of 1862.

Military strategists on both sides understood the importance of these navigable rivers as highways of invasion into the South's heartland. The Confederacy had built forts at strategic points along the rivers, and begun to convert a few steamboats into gunboats to back up the forts. The Federals also converted steamboats into "timberclad" gunboats - so called because they were armored with oak bulwarks that protected their machinery but did not impair their speed and shallow draft for river operations. Northern shipyards also built a new class of ironclad gunboat designed for river warfare. Carrying 13 guns, these flat-bottomed, wide-beamed vessels drew only six feet of water. Their hulls and paddle-wheels were protected by a sloping casemate sheathed in iron armor up to two and half inches thick.

In February, 1862, when the first four of these strange-looking but formidable craft were ready, Grant struck in a lightning campaign that captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. The fall of these forts opened the rivers to Union forces. On February 25, Northern troops occupied Nashville, the first Confederate state capital to fall to the enemy. The center of the Southern defensive line stretching from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian foothills was breached, forcing Confederate theater commander Albert Sidney Johnston to retreat, yielding all of Kentucky and much of Tennessee to Union occupiers.

Johnston concentrated what was left of his army at Corinth in northern Mississippi. He brought reinforcements from New Orleans and Pensacola on the Gulf Coast, leaving these areas dangerously exposed to Union naval forces. But the urgent need to defend the upper Mississippi Valley and, if possible, to drive the enemy out of western Tennessee, received top Confederate priority. Grant concentrated his army at Pittsburg Landing, 20 miles north of Corinth, for a drive on that strategic Southern railroad junction. But Johnston struck first, launching a surprise attack on Grant's forces on April 6 that precipitated the bloody two-day battle of Shiloh. Johnston was killed in the battle and the Union army almost driven into the Tennessee River before receiving reinforcements overnight and counterattacking the next day, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and driving the Confederates back to Corinth.

Though Shiloh was a Union victory, it was a costly one. The heavy Federal casualties, and the suspicion that he had been caught napping the first day, temporarily damaged

Grant's reputation. Nevertheless, Union victories in the western theater continued throughout the spring. On April 24, a Federal naval force under Captain David G. Farragut (soon to be promoted to become America's first admiral), fought its way past the forts guarding the Mississippi below New Orleans, and compelled the surrender of the Confederacy's largest city and principal port. General Halleck took overall command of Union troops in western Tennessee, and drove the Confederates out of Corinth at the end of May Meanwhile, the Union gunboat fleet steamed down the Mississippi, virtually wiping out the small Confederate river navy in a spectacular battle at Memphis on June 6 At Vicksburg, 200 miles below Memphis, the Union gunboats from upriver joined part of Farragut's fleet that had come up from New Orleans, taking Baton Rouge and Natchez along the way. However, the heavily fortified Confederate bastion at Vicksburg proved too strong for the firepower of the fleets. But the dramatic succession of Union triumphs in the western theaters - including a decisive victory at the battle of

Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas on March 7 and 8 - convinced many Northerners that the war was nearly won. This conviction was reinforced by news from the North Carolina sounds, where an expeditionary force under General Ambrose Burnside won a string of small victories, and occupied several ports along the North Carolina coast from February to April 1862. "Every blow tells fearfully against the rebellion," boasted the leading Northern newspaper, the New York Tribune, on May 23, 1862. "The rebels themselves are panic-stricken, or despondent. It now requires no very far-reaching prophet to predict the end of this struggle."

The Tribune's confidence stemmed from the situation in Virginia as well as from victories in the West. But even as the editorial writer penned these words, affairs in Virginia were about to take a sharp turn in the Confederacy's favor. Within three months the Union, so near an outright victory in the spring, would be back on the defensive.

The battle ofShiloh, painted by T.C. Lindsey

The battle ofShiloh, painted by T.C. Lindsey

In the western theater, broad navigable rivers pointed like arrows into the heartland of the Confederacy, facilitating Union invasions. But in Virginia half a dozen small rivers flowing west to east lay athwart the line of operations between Washington and Richmond, thus providing the Confederates with natural lines of defense. McClellan persuaded a reluctant Lincoln to approve a plan to transport the Army of the Potomac down the Chesapeake Bay to the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. This route would shorten the distance to Richmond, and give the Union army a seaborne supply line secure from harassment by Confederate cavalry and guerrillas.

It was a good plan - in theory. The logistical achievement of transporting 100,000 men and their equipment, animals, and supplies by sea to the jump-off point near Yorktown, was impressive. But then McClellan's failings began to surface. His caution, his exaggeration of enemy forces facing him, and his bickering with the Lincoln administration about reinforcements, bogged down his army. This enabled the Confederates to delay him a month at Yorktown while reinforcements poured into the Peninsula to defend Richmond. Eventually, McClellan's siege tactics forced the Confederates to retreat up the Peninsula to a defensive line only six miles east of their capital.

Despite McClellan's sluggishness, it seemed in May 1862 only a matter of time before his siege tactics would compel the surrender of Richmond. Then the remarkable team of Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson turned the war around. Lee had been one of the most promising officers in the pre-war U.S. army. After war broke out at Fort Sumter, Lee's fellow Virginian, Winfield Scott, wanted Lee to become field commander of the principal Union army. Although Lee had opposed secession, sadly he resigned from the U.S. army after the Virginia Convention passed an ordinance of secession on April 17, 1861. "I must side either with or against my section," he told a Northern friend. "I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children." Together with three of his sons and a nephew, Lee joined the Confederate army. After a frustrating stint as field commander of a small army in western Virginia, followed by efforts to shore up Confederate defenses along the South Atlantic coast, Lee returned to Richmond in March 1862 to serve as Jefferson Davis's military adviser. In that capacity he directed General Thomas J. Jackson to undertake a diversionary campaign in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in order to relieve some of the pressure on Richmond by drawing off Union troops to deal with Jackson.

Having earned his sobriquet "Stonewall" by his defensive stand on Henry House Hill at the battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in July, 1861, Jackson now demonstrated the offensive strategy that made him one of the Civil War's most famous generals. During a period of one month (May 8 - June 9), he showed what could be accomplished by deception, daring, and mobility. With only 17,000 men, Jackson moved by forced marches so swift that his infantry earned the nickname "Jackson's foot cavalry." Darting here and there through the Valley, they marched 350 miles in the course of the month, and won four battles against three separate Union armies whose combined numbers were more than twice their own - but which Jackson's force always out-num-bered at the point of contact. This campaign forced Lincoln to divert to the Valley some of the reinforcements McClellan needed for his offensive on the Peninsula.

Even without those reinforcements, McClellan's army substantially outnumbered the Confederate force defending Richmond, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston. Nevertheless, Johnston took the initiative at the end of May in an attack that produced the two-day battle of Seven Pines. The most significant result of this battle was the wounding of Johnston and his replacement by Robert E. Lee.

Lee's appointment marked a turning point in the war in the East. His qualities as a commander immediately manifested themselves: boldness, a willingness to take risks, an almost uncanny ability to read the enemy commander's mind, and a quiet charisma that won the devotion of his men. While McClellan continued to dawdle and feud with Lincoln over reinforcements, Lee planned an offensive. In the last week of June, he brought Jackson's army from the Valley, and with the combined forces launched an attack on McClellan's right flank on June 26 that precipitated what became known as the Seven Days battles - the heaviest fighting of the war so far. Constantly attacking, Lee's army of 88,000 drove McClellan's 100,000 away from Richmond, and forced them to retreat to a new fortified base on the James River. These assaults cost the Confederacy heavily in casualties, but they temporarily reversed the course of the war.

Northern sentiment plunged from the heights of euphoria in May to the depths of despair in July. "The feeling of despondency here is very great," wrote a New Yorker, while a Southerner exulted that "Lee has turned the tide, and I shall not be surprised if we have a long career of successes." The tide turned in the Western theater as well. Union success there in the spring had required the detachment of several Federal divisions to occupy and administer the large area they had conquered. These forces extended deep into enemy territory, at the end of long supply lines which were vulnerable to cavalry raids. Confederate horsemen were quick to take advantage of the opportunity. During the summer and autumn of 1862, the cavalry commands of Tennesseean

Nathan Bedford Forrest and Kentuckian John Hunt Morgan, staged repeated raids in which they burned bridges, blew up tunnels, tore up tracks, and captured supply depots and the Union garrisons defending them. By August, the once-formi-dable Union war machine in the West seemed to have broken down.

Confederate armies commanded by Earl Van Dorn and Braxton Bragg took advantage of these opportunities to launch counteroffensives. Initially successful, these campaigns in turn recoiled after Confederate attacks were repulsed at Corinth, Mississippi (October 3-4) and Perry-ville, Kentucky (October 8). Even after these defeats, however, Confederate forces in the Western theater were in better shape than they had been four months previously.

Most attention at home and abroad, however, focused on the Virginia theater After the Seven Days Battles, the scene of action again shifted to northern Virginia, where several scattered Union divisions had been combined into a new army under General John Pope. Lincoln ordered a sulking McClellan to transfer his troops from the Peninsula to reinforce Pope. In response, Lee also shifted his army, precipitating several weeks of maneuvers and skirmishes that culminated in the second battle of Manassas (Bull Run) on August 29-30. It was another smashing Confederate victory that encouraged Lee, despite the exhaustion of his troops and a shortage of supplies, to keep up the pressure by invading Maryland.

Great prospects rode with Confederate troops as they began splashing across a Potomac ford 40 miles upriver from Washington on September 4. Simultaneously, Braxton Bragg's army invaded Kentucky 500 miles to the west. Maryland might be won for the Confederacy. Another victory by Lee could influence the Northern congressional elections in November, and help Democrats who opposed Lincoln's war policies to gain control of the House and paralyze the Northern war effort. A Confederate victory in Maryland might persuade Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy and intervene to end the war - especially since the long-expected cotton famine had finally materialized. In September 1862, the British and French governments were indeed considering recognition of the Confederacy, and were awaiting the outcome of Lee's invasion to decide whether to proceed.

In Washington, too, momentous consequences awaited the outcome of this military campaign. After the humiliating defeat at Bull Run, Lincoln had combined Pope's army with McClellan's and given McClellan command of both. Lincoln ordered him to pursue Lee and "destroy the rebel army, if possible." While he awaited news from the front, Lincoln reflected on a crucial policy decision he had made two

Rosie O'Neal Greenhow, the Confederate spy who was arrested shortly after the battle of First Manassas

months earlier - to issue an emancipation proclamation. The controversy over slavery had brought on the war in the first place, and it remained the crux of the conflict. From the outset, many slaves regarded Union soldiers as an army of liberation, and flocked to Union lines seeking freedom. One Union general, Benjamin F Butler - who also happened to be a clever lawyer - accepted these fugitives in his camps in Virginia, labeling them "contraband of war" - property owned by the enemy and therefore subject to confiscation. This phrase caught on. It became the legal basis for confiscation acts passed by Congress in August 1861 and July 1862, providing for a limited emancipation of slaves owned by Confederates.

Lincoln at first had resisted making the war for Union a war against slavery, for he feared that doing so would drive the border slave states into the arms of the Confederacy, and would alienate Northern Democrats from support of the Union war effort. But as time went on, and the war escalated in scope and fury, Lincoln's own moral hatred of slavery combined with his growing conviction that he must utilize every resource to win the war - including the enemy's slave population. The war took on new dimensions after the collapse of Northern hopes for imminent victory m the summer of 1862. It became a "total war", requiring mobilization of every resource and the destruction of every enemy resource. To strike at slavery would weaken the Confederacy by undermining its labor force, and would mobilize that resource for the Union along with the moral power of fighting for freedom. To make emancipation a Northern war aim would also undercut Confederate efforts to gain British recognition and support, for anti-slavery sentiment in Britain would never countenance aid to a nation fighting for slavery against one fighting for freedom.

All of these considerations shaped Lincoln's decision in July 1862 to issue an emancipation proclamation, using his powers as Commander-in-Chief to seize enemy property being used to wage war against the United States. Lincoln announced his decision to his cabinet on July 22. According to notes kept by Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, Lincoln presented emancipation as a "military necessity, absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union. We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued. The slaves [are] undeniably an element of strength to those who [have] their service, and we must decide whether that element should be with us or against us... We wanted the army to strike more vigorous blows. The Administration must set an example, and strike at the heart of the rebellion" - slavery.

Secretary of State, William H. Seward, persuaded Lincoln to withhold announcement of the proclamation until a significant military victory could give it credibility and force. Lincoln slipped his proclamation into a desk drawer and waited for such a victory. It would prove to be a long wait, as Union military fortunes slid deeper into the slough of despond, and Lee invaded Maryland. But in the third week of September came news from the banks of Antietam Creek, near the village of Sharpsburg, that Lee had retreated back to

The battle of Antietam, from a lithograph by Kurz and Allison

Virginia after the bloodiest single day of the war, the battle of Antietam (called Sharpsburg by the Confederates) on September 17. McClellan missed an opportunity to inflict an even more crushing defeat on the enemy. Although Lincoln was disappointed with that failure, he considered Antietam enough of a victory to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, declaring that on January 1, 1863, slaves in all states still in rebellion "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." After January 1, when Lincoln issued the final Proclamation, the Union army became officially an army of liberation. The North fought to create a new Union, not to restore an old one.

The news from Antietam put a brake on the British and French momentum toward recognition of the Confederacy; the Emancipation Proclamation tightened that brake. Bragg's retreat from Kentucky after the battle of Perryville further chilled Confederate prospects. Republicans retained control of the Union Congress in the 1862 elections. But the North could not win the war by issuing proclamations, turning back Confederate invasions, and winning elections. Union armies had to invade, conquer, and destroy Confederate resistance.

Lincoln urged McClellan to seize the initiative, cross the Potomac, and attack Lee's army in Virginia before it could recover from its setback. McClellan found one excuse after another for delay, until Lincoln finally gave up on him and on November 7, removed him from command. His successor was Ambrose E. Burnside, who maneuvered the lumbering Army of the Potomac into position to attack the Confederates in the hills behind the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg on December 13. But Burnside's repeated assaults resulted in the most dispiriting defeat ever suffered by the Army of the Potomac. When Lincoln heard the news from Fredericksburg, he said: "If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it."

Reports from the West did little to dispel the renewed gloom in Washington. The Confederates had fortified the city of Vicksburg on bluffs commanding the Mississippi River, enabling them to maintain control of an important stretch of the river between Vicksburg and Port Hudson in Louisiana, which they also fortified. These strongholds denied the Federals domination of the entire Mississippi Valley, and preserved transport links between the western and eastern halves of the Confederacy. To sever those links was the goal of Ulysses S. Grant, who in November, 1862, launched a two-pronged drive against Vicksburg. With one army, Grant moved overland from the north, while with another his principal subordinate, William Tecumseh Sherman, sailed down the Mississippi to attack Vicksburg defenses from the flank while Grant came up on their rear.

The battle of Antietam, from a lithograph by Kurz and Allison

But raids by Confederate cavalry frustrated Grant's progress by destroying the railroads and supply depots in his rear, forcing him to retreat. Meanwhile, Sherman attacked the Confederates at Chickasaw Bluffs on December 29, with no more success than Burnside had enjoyed at Fredericksburg.

The only gleam of light for the North m that dark winter of discontent came from central Tennessee. In that theater, Lincoln had removed General Don Carlos Buell from command of the Army of the Cumberland for the same reason he had removed McClellan - lack of vigor and aggressiveness. Buell's successor was William S. Rosecrans, who had proved himself a fighter in subordinate commands. On the day after Christmas, 1862, Rosecrans moved out from his base at Nashville to attack Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Murfreesboro. The ensuing three-day battle (called Stones River by the Union and Murfreesboro by the Confederacy) resulted m Confederate success on the first day (December 31), but defeat on the last. Both armies suffered devastating casualties equal to a third of their strength, leaving them crippled for months. The Confederate retreat to a new base 40 miles farther south enabled the North to call Stones River a victory. Lincoln expressed his gratitude to Rosecrans: "I can never forget, whilst I remember anything, that you gave us a hard-earned victory which, had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over."

As it was, the nation scarcely lived over the winter of 1862-1863, for Union military prospects and morale declined further during the early months of 1863 before they finally experienced a dramatic improvement in midsummer.

The battle of New Orleans, painted by Jo Davidson

Confederate 'General Albert Sidney Johnston (left) had servi^mfibe fJ.S. Army during the Black.Hawk and Meicioan ¡Mats. Commissioned cr full general in [he Confederate Army ¡at the outbreak of war he enjoyed considerable popularity and his death at Shiloh was counted a national disaster.

Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee January io-june is mi

As Northern and Southern armies took the field, Kentucky sought to remain neutral. For 5 months the state was center stage in the struggle for America's heartland.

The Confederacy made the first move: on September 3, troops crossed into Kentucky and seized Columbus on the Mississippi. Federal forces, better prepared and enjoying local support, took possession of Paducah and Louisville on the Ohio River.

The Confederates, led by General Albert S. Johnston, anchored their center at Bow ling Green. The Federals confronted John ston, and considered how best to achieve one of Lincoln's cherished goals - to free East Tennessee from oppression.

In mid-December, Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell sent a little-known colonel -James A. Garfield - to clear the Confed erates, led by Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall, out of the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Using steamboats, by January 6 Garfield was within seven miles of Paintsville, where Marshall was camped.

Marshall evacuated Paintsville and posted his 1,500 Confederates on ridges bordering Middle Creek. On the 10th Garfield advanced, and by noon the fighting was intense, the 1,700 Federals carrying the fight to the Confederates by working their way up the wooded slopes. Both sides withdrew at nightfall, the Con federates to Martin's Mill, the Federals to Prestonsburg. Unable to sustain his army at Martin's Mill, Marshall returned to Virg inia, leaving the Federals in possession of eastern Kentucky.

middle Creek

January 10, 1662

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