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The causes, key events and legacy of this landmark conflict,

as told by the worlds leading experts


ONE HUNDRED AND fifty international consequences of a divided
years ago this July, Union and America in two world wars and the Cold
Confederate armies clashed War are incalculable.
close to the Pennsylvania On the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg,
town of Gettysburg. Although we at BBC History Magazine have created
few realised it at the time, this this American Civil War special edition,
three-day battle a Union bringing together a group of leading
victory was to become American and British historians to tell the
a defining moment of the story of the conflict in a fresh, compelling
American Civil War. manner. Over the pages that follow you will
The world will little discover the key events and personalities
note, nor long remember what we say that shaped the course of the war and also
here, declared Abraham Lincoln in his get a feel for what it was like to be a foreign
Gettysburg address, but it can never mercenary, a southern widow or a wounded
forget what they did here. He may have veteran during these turbulent years. I hope
been wrong on the first count but he you find it a stimulating read.
was indisputably correct on the second.
Gettysburg, and the American Civil War
as a whole, continue to loom large in
history, not only in the United States,
but in the world at large. For, as James Rob Attar
M McPherson writes on page 98, the Editor


On the anniversary of the civil war,

we look back at the bloodiest
conflict ever fought on US soil




BBC History Magazine


The American Civil War Story from the makers of BBC History

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mistake by the South it was the beginning
14 With god on their side of the end for the Confederacy The American Civil War Story
The war was as much about religion as is produced by
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BBC History Magazine 5

American Civil War

On the eve of war

The American states in 1861
The American Civil War broke out between free states in the
north of the Union (where slavery was prohibited) and slave
states in the south. The latter seceded from the Union early
in 1861 to form the Confederacy, with a capital at Richmond,
Virginia. The war would largely be fought in the southern states.

Four border states did not secede, although they did have
slavery: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. West
Virginia, which split from Virginia over the issue of secession,
was also considered a border state.

6 BBC History Magazine

American Civil War

BBC History Magazine 7

The story of the war

With the Declaration of Independence in 1776, 13 former British colonies
became the United States of America, but by the 1830s it was clear the new
nation was divided. Adam IP Smith explains how the issue of slavery, above all,
created discord between north and south, and forced political tension to rise

Cotton riches Slaves use a cotton gin to separate cotton fibres from seeds. Growing the crop was lucrative, leading to a rise in slavery in southern states

1 The cause of the trouble: slavery

AT THE TIME of the American increase was driven by the profits to Americans in 1861 had much
revolution, it was legal to hold be made from the sale of raw cotton in common with one another: a
human beings as property in all and to a lesser extent sugar, rice reverence for the Founding Fathers
the British colonies that rebelled. and tobacco on world markets. and a shared belief in freedom,
But in the wake of the revolution, As Abraham Lincoln was later opportunity and providential
slavery was abolished in New to say, all knew that somehow God. Most people, both north
England and, gradually, in the slavery was the cause of the war. and south, worked on the land;
mid-Atlantic states as well. In the This is not the same as claiming almost all white folk assumed
south though, where most enslaved that northerners and southerners racial superiority, whatever their

people were held, abolitionism went to war in 1861 with the desire views on slavery. However, slavery
stalled and slavery expanded to attack or defend slavery as a shaped the south in ways that made
rapidly. Between the revolution prime motivation: most did not. the north see it as a threatening and
and 1860, the slave population However, it became increasingly alien society, just as northern
increased from 700,000 to difficult to sustain a nation divided, attacks on slavery pushed
nearly 4 million, geographically half slave and half free in southerners to see Yankees
concentrated in the south. The Lincolns phrase. as their enemies.

8 BBC History Magazine

The story of the war

2 Abolitionism versus proslavery

SLAVERY WAS A capitalist minority, force in the north. It was a
institution: it depended on owners transatlantic movement inspired
being able to buy, sell and invest in by abolition in the British
human beings. That in turn required Empire, powered by
confidence on the part of buyers evangelical fervour and
that their property would be horror at the human cost
protected and recognised. This of slavery, not least in
was why the rising antislavery terms of the destruction
movement, with campaigners core of family life and the
claim that human beings could violation of women.
never be turned into mere property, From the 1830s
was so threatening to slaveholders. onwards, the open
Unlike other moral issues that discussion of
enter politics, abolitionism emancipation in
threatened billions of dollars of the south became
investments. Most Americans in impossible. Slaveholders
both sections shared the common needed the free states to
aspiration of property ownership recognise the legitimacy of
and believed they lived in an open, their slave property. They
free society where hard work was tried, and briefly succeeded, to
rewarded. The difference was ban antislavery material from the
that most southerners were US mail and to prevent the
comfortable with the idea that discussion of antislavery petitions
black people were just another in congress. They were caught in a
type of property. cycle whereby, as more and more End of a cruel era
In the 1830s, the abolitionist people denounced slavery, they As this medal commemorates, the Abolition Act heralded the
movement grew into a loud, if needed ever-greater reassurances. end of slavery within the British Empire on 1 August 1834

3The Mexican
War breaks out
IN 1846, PRESIDENT James K Polk, a
Democrat and a slaveholder, used a
border dispute as a pretext to invade
Mexico. Southerners were excited by
the prospect of acquiring new slave
territory but many northerners
supported the war as well, assuming
that it was the destiny of whites to
settle the entire continent. The
Mexican War was probably the most
successful war of imperial expansion
in modern history: a decisive and
relatively low-cost victory for the
USA that led, in 1848, to the
annexation of the present-day states
of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Expansion by force A depiction of the Battle of Buena Vista (1847), a decisive victory for US forces
New Mexico as well as parts of Texas
and Colorado.
However, the war also set the allowed to become a vast slave end up competing as labourers
nation on a collision course over empire then the character of the against black slaves.
slavery. Very few northerners were nation would be changed forever, and In the end, a compromise was
out-and-out abolitionists but most, it the right to rise for the honest white struck: California was admitted as
turned out, were against the working man would be sacrificed in a free state (just as the Gold Rush
expansion of slavery into these new the interest of a slaveholding class. made it a magnet) but most of the
territories in the west. Increasing Free white men did not want to have rest of the former Mexican land was
numbers of northerners believed to compete for land with privileged opened to the possibility of slavery,
that if the new territories were slaveholders. Nor did they want to should the local settlers so desire it.

BBC History Magazine 9

The story of the war

4 The Fugitive Slave Act 1850

AMONG THE REASSURANCES be shackled and returned to slavery
demanded by southerners was a against the wishes of the local
new Fugitive Slave Act, passed by community, the Fugitive Slave Act
Congress in 1850 against northern made a formerly abstract issue
opposition, which aimed to make it frighteningly real.
easier for slaveholders to reclaim A number of high-profile cases
runaway property in the free of allegedly runaway slaves being
states. Ironically in view of returned to bondage electrified the
southerners later protestations north. In 1854, thousands of
about states rights, the act led to Bostonians shouting shame! and
a massive expansion of the federal kidnappers! watched in horror as
government, giving it the right Anthony Burns, a black man who
to override northern states had been living as a freeman in
law-enforcement procedures. the city, was marched in chains by
Southerners saw the law as federal troops to the wharfside to
a test of how far the north was be taken back south into slavery.
prepared to accommodate what This was the backdrop to the
they called their peculiar phenomenal popularity of Harriet
institution. Respect and enforce Beecher Stowes famous novel
the Fugitive Slave Law as it stands, Uncle Toms Cabin, a grim depiction
one proslavery editor warned the of the harshness of plantation life
north. If not, WE WILL LEAVE that further raised northerners Cause clbre After he was sent south, abolitionists fought
YOU! By demanding that freemen awareness of slavery. a long campaign to free Anthony Burns (183462) from captivity

Act 1854
DID RAILROADS HELP cause the civil war? It was the
desire to build a railroad to California that led Congress
in 1854 to organise land to the west of Illinois, creating
the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. This was land
that had been part of the United States for half a
century but had been barely settled by European
Americans, and from which slavery had been banned
under the terms of the Missouri Compromise in 1820.
Southerners in Congress only supported the bill
once the prohibition on slavery was lifted. To millions
of northerners, including many who had never
previously considered themselves antislavery, this was
a betrayal of a sacred promise that the lands of Kansas
and Nebraska would be open to the free settlement
of poor white men. More than that, it seemed to be
evidence that the government was in the hands of
sinister and aristocratic proslavery interests.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was the single most
important catalyst for the rise of a new political party,
the Republican Party, which presented itself as the only
true defender of northern interests against the
aggressions of the south. The North is discovered!
Racking up the tension was one of many Republican campaign songs. If the
In formally creating the territories of
party could unite the northern states, it could capture
Kansas and Nebraska to aid railway
expansion, and simultaneously lifting enough Electoral College votes to win the presidency
a ban on slavery in the region, Congress even without having any support at all in the south.
heightened tensions between north It didnt manage this in 1856. Hapless Pennsylvania
and south. Proslavery elements and Democrat James Buchanan won instead. But in the
abolitionists flooded into Kansas,
leading to local skirmishes, and
coming few years, the new party built support further
Bleeding Kansas, or the Border War, as the south demanded even greater protection for its
was a presage to further conflict slave property.
The story of the war

6The Rise of
Abraham Lincoln
ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS born in 1809 in a log cabin
in what was then the frontier state of Kentucky. Despite
having virtually no formal education, Lincoln made his
own way in life, shrugging off his subsistence-farming
background and the whiskey-soaked roughness that
went with it. He became a leading lawyer in Springfield,
Illinois, and with a keen interest in politics, he also
became a prominent state politician, arguing for
transportation improvements and secure banks.
After one term in Congress in the late 1840s, his
political career appeared to be over. But like many
others, he thought the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a
challenge that had to be faced. In a speech given at
Peoria, Illinois, in 1854, Lincoln expressed the shame
and anger so many northerners felt at the potential
expansion of slavery. Our republican robe is soiled
and trailed in the dust, he declared. Let us repurify
it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the
blood of the revolution.
Although Lincoln repeatedly said that he
disapproved of slavery as a violation of the rights
of men to the fruits of their labour, he was not an
abolitionist and he revered the American Constitution,
even though it protected slavery within states that
allowed it. But while he did not advocate the immediate
overthrow of slavery, he said again and again that it
should be placed on the path to ultimate extinction.
In Lincolns view, the United States would become
either a slave nation or a modern free-labour nation.
For the future president, the time had come to be clear Humble roots Abraham Lincoln, pictured here with his son Tad (Thomas) in
about the final destination. February 1865, rose from obscurity to lead the North through the American Civil War

7 John Browns
raid of 1859
IN OCTOBER 1859, the messianic
abolitionist John Brown launched
an amateurish raid on the federal
arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
His aim was to distribute the arms
among local slaves and spark a
general insurrection. Brown was
quickly apprehended by US troops
under the command of Colonel
Robert E Lee. Course of attack Brown led his raiders to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, with the aim of seizing the armoury
Browns raid struck southern
society at its weakest point, but antislavery strongholds, including of this guilty land will never be
shocking as it was for white Massachusetts, supporters raised purged away but with blood.
southerners that violence had been funds for Browns legal defence and Browns raid reinforced

used on their home soil, the most to help his family. southerners conception of
frightening aspect of the affair was Brown played the part of themselves as victims. One Virginia
the northern response. While most martyr to perfection. Republican newspaper concluded: Thousands
mainstream politicians, including newspapers reported his well- of men who, a month ago, scoffed
Republican leaders, condemned aimed final words as he was led to at the idea of a dissolution of the
Browns acts, there was also the gallows: I, John Brown, am Union now hold the opinion that
admiration for his bravery. In now quite certain that the crimes its days are numbered.

BBC History Magazine 11

The story of the war

8 The 1860
THE TRIGGER FOR secession was
the election of the Republican
presidential candidate Abraham
Lincoln in November 1860. It was, in
effect, two parallel elections, one in
each section. The Democratic Party
split, with one Democrat, Stephen
A Douglas, fighting Lincoln in the
free states, while another, John C
Breckinridge, fought for the votes
of slave states against a more
moderate third-party opponent.
Lincoln won only 40 per cent of
the national popular vote, but by
winning almost all of the free
states, he comfortably carried the
Electoral College.
Antislavery men welcomed
Lincolns election as a decisive break Campaign fervour Lincolns name was abbreviated to create this eye-catching promotional banner
with the past. The patrician Bostonian
Charles Francis Adams was elated years, appeared to have been Irrevocably so, since the rising
that the great revolution has actually prescient. Lincoln, like the rest of population of the free states meant
taken place and that the country his party, believed slavery was their Electoral College advantage
has once and for all thrown off the wrong. To the leaders of southern would only increase and leave the
domination of the slaveholders. society, this was enough for them to south politically impotent. The
In southern states, the so-called believe that the federal government election of Lincoln, wrote one
fire eaters, who had been had fallen into the hands of people southern politician, has placed
campaigning for secession for who were their enemies. our necks under their heels.

9 Southern states
secede from the Union
TO NO-ONES SURPRISE, South became the provisional president of
Carolina, long the most radical the Confederate States of America.
proslavery region of the southern Even so, the tide of secession
states, was the first to announce it was held back by Unionists in the
was leaving the Federal Union, on upper south states of North
20 December 1860. The resolutions Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.
adopted that day made it explicit In Virginia, still the state with the
that the motive was the protection largest number of slaves, secession
of slavery. South Carolina was opposed by those counties with
secessionists condemned the free fewer slaves. Although not pro-
states for denouncing as sinful the emancipation, they argued that the
institution of Slavery. Union, notwithstanding the election
Elsewhere, fire eaters gained of a president who was a Black
political momentum, capturing Republican, still provided more
popular indignation at Lincolns security for slavery than an
election. By 1 February 1861, untested southern Confederacy.
Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Conscious that Lincolns election

Georgia, Louisiana and Texas had had been entirely legitimate, some
passed secession resolutions. By urged the southern states to wait
9 February, commissioners from for an overt act of aggression.
the seven seceded states, meeting That overt act soon came. By June
New allegiance A celebration of the Confederacy. In fact, in Montgomery, Alabama, had 1861, 11 slave states formed the
not all the states named here seceded. Maryland, for instance, adopted a provisional constitution Confederacy and prepared to
didnt formally take either side and was placed under martial law and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi defend their independence.

12 BBC History Magazine

The story of the war

Guns blazing
On 12 April 1861, South Carolina forces
bombarded Fort Sumter. The Union
garrison tried to defend itself
(pictured), but ultimately surrendered

10 Sumter and the outbreak of war, 1861

THE FIRST SHOTS of the American north in defence of the Union, nothing less than independence, the
Civil War were fired at 4.30am on overshadowing the slavery issue. Lincoln administration mobilised
12 April 1861 by South Carolina Newspapers, which the day before for a war to bring the rebels forcibly
forces. Their target was Fort had called for compromise and a back into the Union.
Sumter, an island in Charlestons cooling of passions, now called for Abraham Lincoln never
harbour garrisoned by Union vengeance and urged their readers recognised the Confederacy: to
troops. Perhaps deliberately, the to rally behind the flag. him these states were simply
new president, Abraham Lincoln, On 15 April, Lincoln called for rebels and the war a giant police
had precipitated this aggression by 75,000 volunteers under the 1795 action to restore the authority of the
making public his plan to re-supply Militia Act to serve for 90 days, the national government. Secession,
(though not reinforce) the fort. maximum amount prescribed by Lincoln insisted, was the essence
By opening fire on Fort Sumter, the the law. This was the overt act of of anarchy.
Confederates played into Lincolns aggression that prompted the
hands by making the issue a test of states of Virginia, North Carolina, Turn to page 32 to learn how
whether a free government could Arkansas and Tennessee to join battles at Bull Run creek, Shiloh, and
and would defend itself. their fellow southern slave states in Gettysburg shaped the next stage of
The shocking image of the stars seceding. With the seceded states the American Civil War
and stripes under fire stirred the making clear they were fighting for

BBC History Magazine 13

Origins of the war

Gods blessing
A clergyman holds a service at the
New York State Militias camp, where
Union forces, like those of the South,
had been inspired by religious
rhetoric around the slavery issue
Origins of the war

Slavery divided north and south, but it was only when evangelical politics
elevated the issue into a religious crusade that each side saw a
moral obligation to go to war, argues David Goldfield

ISTER MARY JOHN, this destiny depended on capturing Vice President Alexander Stephens
of the Catholic convent the west for white Protestants. observed in 1861, slavery was the
in Charlestown, In the summer of 1834, he cornerstone of the new government.
Massachusetts, had gone returned east to Boston to preach The Rev Benjamin M Palmer, a
missing. Inflamed by rumours of three fiery anti-Catholic sermons leading evangelical minister,
debauchery, mysterious rites and exhorting congregations to action sermonised that only independence
nuns held against their will, local against popery. The immediate could fulfill the souths providential
people were already suspicious of the cause for his alarm was the trust: the duty to ourselves, to our
hilltop convent. They were worried slaves, to the world, and to Almighty
about the 30 Protestant girls who God to preserve and transmit our
were housed at the convents elite The South had a duty to existing system of domestic servitude.
Catholic school and now they feared
for the safety of the missing nun. ourselves, to our slaves to Virtue versus evil
Lyman Beecher, a prominent New
England evangelical religious figure,
preserve the existing system So it happens that many Americans
continue to believe something
was particularly concerned. Caught contrary to established facts. This
up in a religious movement known as disappearance of Sister Mary John. is partly because its uncomfortable
the Second Great Awakening, he had The day after Beechers incendiary to associate an entire people with
moved from Boston to the raw diatribes, a mob of Protestant Lyman Beechers slavery. Popular culture also plays a
preaching was
frontier town of Cincinnati where he working men burned the convent to anti-Catholic and
role. Many still have a gauzy image of
established a seminary with the aim the ground. Fortunately, the residents abolitionist the old south drawn from Gone With
of saving the American west from escaped unharmed. the Wind. But just maybe the public
Roman Catholicism. For the past half century, is on to something in that historians,
historians have argued that slavery in identifying slavery as the wars
Anti-Catholic diatribe caused the civil war. No slavery, no primary cause, have established the
While in Cincinatti, Beecher set down war. Yet most Americans continue conflict as a morality play pitting
his ideas in a popular book, A Plea for to believe otherwise. In 2009, a the Republic of Virtue (the North)
the West (1835). It exposed an alleged national survey of high school against the Evil Empire (the South).
Catholic conspiracy to defile western history teachers turned up just 17 The fact that 752,000 men died and
virgin land, using the dread per cent who blamed slavery as the a region was laid to waste seem heavy
confessional to manipulate elections cause. States rights, the tariff, greed prices for acting out this drama.

and inflame and divide the nation, and self-determination were among The reality is more complicated
break the bond of our union, and the alternatives. than that. And that brings us
throw down our free institutions. The This denial is all the more back to Sister Mary John
mission of America to guide the world confounding because the and the Rev Lyman
to grace depended on the religious record of that time is Beecher, and the
and political destiny of the west. And clear. As Confederate current of

Origins of the war

Mass immigration
Irish Catholics prepare to leave Ireland
for America where a million arrived
in the mid-19th century, an influx that
made some Protestants feel threatened

The Mexican-American War arguably grew

partly from a US sense of manifest destiny

American life their story

represents. Why did slavery, which
had existed since the nations
founding, cause Americans to turn
violently against each other in 1861?
The answer is that the political
system failed. In a system based upon
the balance of powers, where
compromise and moderation carry
the day, slavery became an issue that
increasingly polarised the political
process in America.
The polarisation occurred because
religion infected the political process, continent from sea to shining sea. It turned out that northern
transforming slavery from a political John L OSullivan, a Harvard- evangelicals were as intent on
issue to a moral cause. Your political educated journalist, coined a phrase keeping out southern slaveholders
opponent was no longer misguided for this geographic entitlement and from the west as they were to cleanse
or misinformed, he was evil. And providential oversight when he wrote it of Catholics. Beecher was not only
how do you compromise with sin? In in July 1845 of our manifest destiny an anti-Catholic zealot, he was an
short, self-righteousness hijacked the to overspread and to possess the antislavery advocate. The equation
American political system and whole of the continent allotted by between slavery and Catholicism was
justified a holy war either to liberate Providence for the free development easy for many northern Protestants:
slaves (the North) or to preserve of our yearly multiplying millions. both were predicated on despotism;
slavery (the South). Of course, Native Americans and both existed in a hierarchical system;
Mexicans populated some of this and both relied on the ignorance of
A mission to conquer manifest territory, but the former its adherents to sustain a relatively
Religion, as Beechers writings and evinced no religion that was familiar privileged and wealthy leisure class.
speeches show us, had much to do to white Americans, and the latter In addition, both appeared to
with another great episode of the era: were mostly Roman Catholics. It is threaten the American system of
the movement west. Americans not surprising that within a year of government by the consent of the
believed that it was their God- OSullivans dictum, the US was at governed. The failed European
ordained mission to conquer a war with Mexico. revolutions of 1848 impressed upon

Timeline THE ROAD TO WAR Key events that turned slavery into a crusade

1846 1850 1852

Wilmot Proviso Compromise of 1850 Publication of Harriet Beecher
David Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat, The north secures California as a free Stowes Uncle Toms Cabin
offers an amendment to an appropriations state and southerners get the Fugitive The book becomes a bestseller and
bill for the Mexican-American War banning Slave Act (captured runaways to be

convinces many northerners, previously

slavery from any territory gained from that returned to masters). It is small indifferent to the institution of slavery, that
war. The House passes the proviso more consolation, especially as it galvanises human bondage perverts Christianity.
than 50 times between 1846 and 1850, but it northern opposition. Northerners
always fails in the Senate. The debate sows evasion of the Act convinces southerners
distrust between northerners and the North is insincere in its commitment
southerners, heightening sectional tension. to resolve the sectional controversy.

16 BBC History Magazine

Origins of the war

Americans how fragile democratic Although the Know Nothings characterised the party platform as
institutions were. With the influx of presented themselves as advocates Gods revealed Word.
more than one million Irish of electoral reform through efforts The ubiquity of religious rhetoric
Catholics in the decade after 1847, to restrict the political and civil rights and imagery in the Republican
and the growing crisis over the of immigrants, their appeal rested campaign further polarised an
extension of slavery in the western on good old religious bigotry. Their already divided Union. One minister
territories, the American experiment animus against foreigners drew summarised the upcoming election
seemed vulnerable. a significant following among the as a decisive struggle between
Protestant working class. Newspaper freedom and slavery, truth and
The truth of God editor William Brownlow expressed falsehood, justice and oppression,
By the late 1840s, messianic the raw prejudice behind the veneer God and the devil. For a political
Protestantism had already begun to of reform: We can have no peace in system that depends upon
seep into the political process. The this country until the CATHOLICS moderation and compromise, these
Liberty Party appeared in 1840 ARE EXTERMINATED. were not promising sentiments.
urging citizens to support it as a The Liberty Party, the Free Soilers, Abraham Lincoln came to the
religious duty. One of its leaders and the Know Nothings could not Republican Party relatively late. He
asserted, The Liberty Party, unlike build a national constituency to was not a religious bigot, although he
any other in history, was founded on challenge the Democratic Party. By vigorously opposed the extension
moral principles on the Bible, the mid-1850s, these forces coalesced
originating a contest not only against into a new and ultimately more
slavery but against atheistic politics. successful political organisation, the By the late 1840s, messianic
The Free Soil Party tapped into the Republican Party, which merged the
evangelical spirit in the north, staging antislavery and anti-Catholic strains Protestantism began to seep
a revival-style convention in Buffalo,
New York, in August 1848. Speakers
of messianic Protestantism.
The first national Republican
into the political process
called for a great moral revolution convention occurred in Philadelphia
founded on the idea of right and in June 1856. It was a time of great
justice and the truth of God. agitation on the slavery issue
Messianic politics received a Kansas was ablaze in a civil war over
significant boost in 1850 from a slavery and earlier in the year a
speech by New York Senator William southern Congressman had seriously
H Seward during the debate over the injured Massachusetts senator
admission of California to the Union Charles Sumner in retaliation for
as a free state. There is a higher law an antislavery diatribe. It was also a
than the Constitution, he declared, time of mounting concerns about
which regulates our authority over immigration, often expressed in
this domain, and devotes it to the violent clashes between Catholics
same noble purposes. In a nation and Protestants in the nations cities,
predicated on law and, specifically especially around elections.
the Constitution, this appeal was
especially troublesome. Religious rhetoric
By 1853, another Protestant party A participant at the Republican
emerged, the Know Nothings. Rather convention reported that the
than slavery, the new party focused gathering resembled a Methodist Men at arms
on the dangers of immigration, conference rather than a political Members of a battery formed to fight proslavery forces in Kansas
especially of Irish Roman Catholics. convention, and another during the Bleeding Kansas period, pictured in 1856

1854 1855 1856

Kansas-Nebraska Act repeals Bleeding Kansas Election of Democrat James
Missouri Compromise The Kansas-Nebraska Act leads to a Buchanan to the Presidency
The act allows southerners to bring series of violent political confrontations in The Democrats, the nations only
slaves into an area that was formerly Kansas between proslavery and remaining national party, wins the
closed to slavery, thereby repealing the abolitionist factions. presidency. But a new party, the
Missouri Compromise of 1820 and Republicans, combining anti-immigrant
angering northerners. and antislavery constituencies, makes
a strong showing throughout the north.

BBC History Magazine 17

Origins of the war

of slavery in the territories. By the

late 1850s, however, his writing and
his speeches exhibited an increasingly
messianic tone. In accepting the
Republican nomination for the US
Senate race in Illinois in 1858,
Abraham Lincoln took his text from
Matthew 12:25: And Jesus knew
their thoughts, and said unto them,
Every kingdom divided against itself
is brought to desolation; and every
city or house divided against itself
shall not stand.

Lincolns God-given mission

His conviction had grown that
America could not fulfill its God-
given mission nor preserve its fragile
institutions if the nation persisted
half slave and half free. It must be one
or the other. This was not a Union-
loving compromiser talking. The
mounting political crisis had
convinced him that the battle must
be joined, probably sooner rather No sleep til election day
than later. The Illinois Republican A membership certificate for the Wide-Awake Club, a radical Republican marching club formed in 1860
Party dedicated its campaign that
autumn to vanquishing: The
Two-Despotisms Catholicism and the narrow streets preceded by
Slavery Their Union and Identity. booming military bands entreating
Lincolns senatorial campaign citizens to march: On for freedom,
and his debates against the Democrat God, our country, and the right.
Stephen A Douglas propelled him to Former Know Nothings in
national prominence and he became Republican ranks grasped the
the partys presidential candidate evangelical fervour of the campaign
in 1860. Republican rallies that year to pursue their attacks on the
exuded an evangelical fervour that Catholic Church. A Republican
blended religious and military newspaper, blending antislavery
pageantry. The Wide-Awakes, the and nativist rhetoric, alleged that:
partys shock troops of younger Roman Catholics, whose
voters, paraded in black oilcloth consciences are enslaved regard

capes and red shirts after the fashion the King of Rome the Pope as
of the Paris revolutionaries of 1848. the depository of all authority.
They even marched into the Republicans distilled the Democrats
Lincolns vigorous opposition to slavery Democratic stronghold of New York, to an unholy trinity of the Pope, a
was fuelled by his religious convictions holding their torches high through whisky barrel and a nigger driver.

THE ROAD TO WAR continued

1857 1859 1860

Supreme Court issues John Browns raid fails at Election of Republican
Dred Scott Decision Harpers Ferry, Virginia Abraham Lincoln as president
Chief Justice Roger Taney issues a With the aid of funds from New England, With the Democratic Party divided along
sweeping ruling declaring that black abolitionist John Brown captures the sectional lines and a new party the
people are not citizens and therefore lack federal arsenal hoping in vain to Constitutional Union Party in the race,
standing to sue, and that Congress can instigate a slave revolt although Abraham Lincoln wins the election,
not ban slavery in the territories. he only succeeds in worsening triggering the secession movement
sectional tensions. in the lower south states.

18 BBC History Magazine

Origins of the war

By the time of the 1860

presidential election, Americans
had become accustomed to viewing
political events in moral terms. Three
prominent events in particular
seemed part of a vast evil conspiracy
(depending on where you lived).
Firstly, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of
1854 had repealed the 1820 Missouri
Compromise, thereby opening up
Kansas to slavery and precipitating a
bloody civil war in that territory.
Secondly, the US Supreme Courts
decision in the Dred Scott case
effectively declared Congressional
authority to ban slavery in the
territories as unconstitutional (and
therefore undercut one of the major
tenets of the Republican Party). A slave rebellion
Finally, abolitionist John Browns Southerners were horrified by John Browns attempt to inspire a slave insurrection at Harpers Ferry in 1859
raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers
Ferry, Virginia in October 1859 was
feared by southerners to be the first President Lincoln or Confederate To Stowe, the civil war was a
of many northern plots to cause a President Jefferson Davis could millennial war, the last struggle for
slave rebellion. Righteousness have stood down and averted liberty that would precede the
replaced the Constitution as the what became the bloodiest conflict coming of the Lord: Gods just wrath
arbiter of policy. in American history. Lincolns shall be wreaked on a giant wrong.
decision to provision Fort Sumter, Her brother, Henry Ward Beecher,
Bible waving his unwillingness to consider related the familiar story of Exodus
We know the rest of the story: compromise proposals that had the to his congregation, how Moses led
Lincoln was elected president; the children of Israel out of Egypt to
the lower southern states seceded; the Red Sea, and how the sea parted
the Confederates opened fire on Slavery was the major cause and allowed the chosen people to
Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861; escape. And now our turn has come,
and the civil war began. Yes, slavery
of the war. But evangelical he exclaimed. Right before us lies the
was the major cause of the war. But politics polarised and Red Sea of War. And God was ready,
evangelical politics polarised and foretelling Julia Ward Howes famous
poisoned the political process. poisoned the political process lines, that awful wine-press of the
Politicians in the 1850s posed, Wrath of Almighty God would
postured and waved Bibles, but they backing of many in the north, and his come down from the heavens and
did not resolve the major issues until massive troop call-up following the bury the South.
there was no longer much chance firing on Sumter were just as fateful The war that followed buried
they could. The centre eroded and as Daviss decision to fire on the fort 752,000 men. That war should teach
the extremes ruled. during the dawns early light of us that self-righteousness and
War is rarely inevitable. There 12 April 1861. When you believe religious certitude are more likely to
were numerous points at which God is on your side, why hesitate? lead to violent rather than peaceful
And so what did happen to Sister resolution and that even a good cause
Mary John whose disappearance the abolition of slavery may be
caused such a furore? The summer served better by peace than conflict.
heat and having to teach 14 gruelling We will never know, of course, but
lessons a day had propelled her exit the struggle of African-Americans to
from the convent. She rested at a attain basic rights for a century after
1861 neighbouring farmhouse for two
days and then returned to her post.
the war should motivate us to
speculate on a different outcome. Let
Firing on Fort Sumter; She was actually in the convent when us honour the men who died. But it
civil war begins the Protestant mob, avenging her would have been a greater tribute to
The fort in Charleston harbour is abduction, destroyed the building. the nation had they lived.
one of the last remaining federally
held forts in the Confederate
states. When Lincoln decides to
A holy conflict David Goldfield is the Robert Lee Bailey
resupply the garrison in April, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lymans Professor of History at the University of
rebel batteries fire on the fort and daughter, whose Uncle Toms Cabin North Carolina, Charlotte. His most
the civil war begins. became an antislavery Bible in its recent book is the widely acclaimed
own right, summarised the America Aflame: How the Civil War Created
evangelical response to Sumter. a Nation (Bloomsbury, 2011)

BBC History Magazine 19

There were four million enslaved people in America when the civil war broke
out and their plight was the primary cause of the conflict. What was life like for
these descendants of people abducted from their African homes?

FRICANS WERE AMONG a secondary market, the final destination European society negative attitudes towards
the very earliest settlers of for about 600,000 of these stolen people. Yet Africans based upon their skin colour, and
Britains North American that enslaved population would ultimately their supposed heathenism and savagery,
colonies. Scattered references grow to over three million by 1850, which served as justifications for their
to their presence can be found in Virginia concentrated in the southern states of the enslavement. Race slavery was therefore a
census returns of the 1610s. These men, Union, the northern states having abolished social and cultural phenomenon as much
women and children were among the slavery after gaining independence from as an economic one. By 1861, although only
approximately 12 million enslaved people Great Britain. In the 1700s, slaves laboured a minority of white southerners actually
who, from the 15th to the 19th centuries, on plantations, farming such crops as owned slaves, the majority of them were
endured the so-called Middle Passage, the tobacco in Virginia, and rice in Georgia prepared to fight in defence of slavery
journey in filthy, cramped and pestilent and the Carolinas. By the mid-19th century, because their own social status was
slave-ships from Africa to the new world. the most profitable crop was cotton, its dependent upon the enslavement of those
The majority of those who survived the production centred in the states of the deep allegedly inferior beings with black skins.
dreadful crossing were transported to souths western frontier, such as Mississippi, Furthermore, propagandists such as the
Spanish and Portuguese colonies, or to Arkansas, Alabama and Texas. Virginian planter George Fitzhugh rejected
British and French possessions in the Yet American slavery needs to be claims that slavery was cruel or exploitative,
Caribbean. The British colonies on understood as more than just an economic and argued that the system was based upon
continental North America that would system. Even before the Atlantic slave trade mutual obligations and shared
one day become the United States were was first established, there existed within responsibilities between a master and his
people, not the selfish pursuit of profit.
Slaves, he said, were actually better cared for
A depiction of a slave ship than the wage slaves who toiled in the mills
carrying its human cargo and factories of New England. In the north,
to the Americas abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison
and Frederick Douglass (himself a former
slave who had escaped his bondage)
responded by pointing to the use of the
whip in managing slaves, to children torn
from the arms of their mothers on auction
blocks, and men unable to defend wives and

daughters from sexual assault. The slaves of

abolitionist literature were hungry, ragged
and ill-used. So what does history tell us of
the experience of slavery?

Gervase Phillips is a principal

lecturer in history at Manchester
Metropolitan University

20 BBC History Magazine


Working lives Tending cotton was physically

demanding work undertaken
largely by slaves
BY 1850, SOME 2.5 million of rooms of the paddle steamers
the souths three million slaves on the Ohio, the Cumberland and
were employed as agricultural the Mississippi rivers also relied
labourers, but a significant upon the strong arms of the
minority was involved in other souths enslaved workers.
economic activities. Southern In a free labour system,
cities, such as Richmond and only a minority, typically under
Charleston, were home to many half, of available workers are
skilled slave craftsmen and actually engaged in economically
artisans: carpenters, coopers, productive activities (others are
smiths and bakers. The souths retired, studying or full-time
railroads and dirt tracks were homemakers). In a slave labour
the daily workplace of slave force, few can avoid work. This
coachmen, carters and mule was, essentially, what made
drivers. The regions industrial American slavery so productive.
sector was small, but not The majority of slaves worked,
insignificant, and it too employed and working days were typically
many slaves. For example, sun-up to sun-down. Women The elderly, the infirm, the back-breaking labour. And while
by 1860, Virginias Tredegar toiled in the fields until the final disabled work would be found the attention the fields needed
iron works had moved from stages of pregnancy. Aged five, for them all. Furthermore, varied with the seasons, there
a largely free work force to a children might be scaring birds cultivating difficult crops such would always be work to do:
predominantly enslaved one. off seeds; aged seven, they would as tobacco, cotton, sugar and mending fences, clearing new
Mining operations and the engine be toting water for field hands. rice demanded exhausting, ground, weaving and spinning.

Motivation and coercion

INCENTIVISING WORK What is less clear is the balance individual slaves worked at
WAS one means by which between physical coercion and set tasks. Once these tasks
slaves were motivated: the possibility of reward in were completed, their time was
extra food, clothes, motivating slaves to work hard their own to cultivate their own
holidays from work, and well. When we think of crops or fish or engage in cottage
a patch of ground to American slavery, the mental industries, such as basket
cultivate and positions image we probably most readily weaving. This gave slaves an
of responsibility for conjure up is of the slave gang incentive to finish tasks the
trusted individuals. working directly under the time and labour they owed to
Furthermore, in one watchful eye of an overseer or their masters before effectively
sense slaves always had driver who carries a whip. Nor working for themselves, either
an incentive to work is this mental image inaccurate: to better their material
hard. If their masters the organisation of slaves as conditions directly, by growing
enterprise failed, they gang labour was commonplace, food to supplement their rations,
were the ones who particularly in the cultivation or even to engage in trade and
would likely suffer most: of tobacco and cotton, and the make some money. Without
rations cut, clothing lash certainly underpinned losing sight of the violence, or
allowance slashed, labour management. threat of violence, that ultimately
perhaps even sale on Yet this was not the whole secured the labour of slaves, we
the auction block to story. For example, on the should recognise that in certain
cover losses. So it is rice plantations of the South favourable circumstances,
incorrect to think of the Carolina and Georgia low slaves, like wage labourers,
Overseers would resort to harsh punishments slave workforce as one country, slaves were worked might themselves enjoy the
if an individual slave caused them problems that lacked incentives. in gangs less often. Usually, fruits of their own hard work.

BBC History Magazine 21


South Carolina, 1860

children gather next to the
shacks that housed them

Accommodation, food and health

SLAVE CABINS WERE basic three times the rate for north the floor, without bed, mattress monotonous one, and deficient
in construction and furnishing, America as a whole. or pillow, buried in tattered and enough of some key nutrients
at best comparable only to the By the middle of the filthy blankets. that it may have been the cause
dwellings of the very poorest 19th century, more attention Susceptibility to disease could of recurrent ailments, such as a
class of white society. Yet there was paid to the structure, be worsened by poor nutrition. condition known as sore mouth,
was general recognition in the maintenance and position of The basic weekly rations that which probably resulted from a
decades before the American cabins. These were usually built adult slaves received were lack of riboflavin.
Civil War that this situation on higher ground, away from usually a peck (about two Much depended on the whim
should be improved. Doctors stagnant water and, ideally, gallons) of corn meal and three of individual masters. Frederick
demanded that slave-owners regularly white-washed and or four pounds of salt pork and Douglass described slave
provide better accommodation, cleaned. Yet disease remained bacon. This might have been children on the plantation where
for they had identified slave a day-to-day reality of slave life, supplemented by produce grown he grew up being fed from
quarters as breeding grounds frustrating the efforts of even the by the slaves themselves and by communal troughs on the floor
for disease. Poor housing most well-intentioned planters. additional items, perhaps milk, like animals and how, as an
conditions were a major Medical care for slaves could be coffee and molasses, supplied adolescent, hunger was his

contribution to slave morbidity: appallingly primitive. The British by their owner, as a reward for constant companion. He turned
malaria, typhus, cholera, actress Frances Fanny Kemble, good work. That basic ration to thievery as a simple matter of
tuberculosis and dysentery who endured a brief and unhappy itself was bulky but, from a survival. In contrast, former field
took an unremitting toll of lives. marriage to a Georgia planter, nutritional perspective, lacked hand Henry Baker, interviewed in
In the 1830s, the mortality rate Pierce Butler, left a vivid balance. We can speak therefore 1938, recalled the large number
on the rice plantations located description of the hospital of a generally adequate diet, in of hogs kept on his Alabama
in the feverish South Carolina on one of his plantations in 1839: that it maintained body weight plantation. His master, he said,
low country reached a shocking its floors were the damp earth and provided sufficient energy always ensured his people had
97.6 per 1,000, which was and the sick lay prostrate on for work. However, it was a plet ub sumpin teat.

22 BBC History Magazine


Family ties
SLAVE MARRIAGE WAS not a fellow slave women who
legally recognised and slave went crazy because her two
parents had no rights over their sons were sold She went
children. Even if well-intentioned up and down the street, crying
masters were reluctant to divide like an animal.
parents and children, ill fortune Yet, notwithstanding their
such as debt or the division of vulnerability, families were
an estate upon a masters death immensely important on the
might tear relatives apart. plantations. Many planters
Recent research on the internal actively supported them, either
American slave trade has out of a sense of moral obligation
estimated that in the upper or because married and settled
slaves were easier to control. Conventional family life endured among slaves,
south, which became a net
although families would often be forced apart
exporter of slaves in the decade The enslaved themselves
before the Civil War, a third of showed a remarkable and
first marriages were broken resilient commitment to the
by forced separation and nearly institution of marriage, and Despite the confining nature plantation or marriages were
50 per cent of slave children typically lived in two-parent of plantation life, marriage was made abroad, with those living
would lose touch with at least families with their children exogamous (of non blood-related on different plantations. These
one parent. Such events caused a relationship that was if beings) and even marriage unions were considered
deep emotional pain. Susan necessary re-created with among first cousins seemed permanent until death or
Boggs, who eventually fled to step-parents should the rare. Partners were selected distance separated husband
freedom in Canada, recalled original family be separated. from other families on the and wife.

Paternalism and defiance

THERE CAN BE no doubt that the enslaved as members of his were matters of pressing was the Nat Turner insurrection
some planters took a own extended family. They were concern to him. He insisted, too, in Virginia in 1831, in which the
paternalistic interest in the lives dressed in good-quality cloth, that his overseers refrain from charismatic preacher led around
of slaves. Charles Manigault, which he presented to each physical brutality. And yet his 70 followers in a violent outburst,
who belonged to a respected personally. Their food, their slaves laboured and died, usually killing about 60 whites. The
family in Charleston, regarded quarters, their very happiness prematurely, in one of the rebellion was crushed within two
harshest working environments days. Mostly discontented slaves
found in the southern USA: a employed day-to-day forms of
Georgia rice plantation. resistance: sabotage, working
In other instances, even slowly or ineffectively, arson and,
the notion of paternalism was most effectively, running away.
absent. African-Americans The civil war offered the
could not testify in court against enslaved their greatest chance
a white man, and consequently to express their own views on
were defenceless against those slavery. Their actions spoke
masters who were rapacious or loudly. Even before Lincolns
brutal. Records speak forcefully Emancipation Proclamation,
of cruelty: taking a runaway into they abandoned the fields in
custody, a jailer in Louisiana tens of thousands and swarmed
noted: He has been lately gelded into Union lines. By forcing the
and is not yet well. issue of emancipation upon
With slavery policed by Washington they in turn ensured
patrols and militias, open revolt their children would not have to
Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in 1831, was captured and hanged occurred only rarely. An example endure slavery.

BBC History Magazine 23

Why people fought: the South


Whatever their individual motivations, Confederates were united in their wish
to protect a slave-based society, as Richard Carwardine explains

HE CIVIL WAR took a in the upper south. All classes of white regardless of class, saw themselves as
grievous toll of Confederate men volunteered, in their tens of thousands. resisting northern enslavement in a fight
lives. During the conflict, at They were moved by duty, by loyalty to their for liberty they likened to the Patriots
least three quarters of a million states, and by a concern to protect their Revolution of 1776.
men, approximately four in every five of families and homes from invasion. Many
the available white population of draft age, were outraged at an attack on southern Losing the war
served in the armies of the South. More honour, others sought excitement and Confederate soldiers motives for fighting
than a quarter of a million of these troops glory. But amongst these and other motives, did not change fundamentally over time,
died on the battlefield or from disease. a universal impulse underpinned southern even when the promising victories of 1862
Another 200,000 were wounded in combat. patriotism: the defence of slavery and the and 1863 gave way to grimmer realities,
But these appalling figures fail to reveal racial order it sustained. war weariness and, eventually, defeatism.
the full human horror of the fighting. The Slave owners were openly determined Desertion was less meaningful than the
experience of battle was so harrowing that to protect their property and prevent raw numbers suggest, since many men
in their letters home soldiers remained what they were sure would follow the left their regiments to protect their homes,
protectively silent about the worst of it. emancipation of four million slaves: racial before returning to service. Nor was there
What then propelled southerners terror, physical assault and sexual violation. a simple picture of declining morale: the
in arms the vast majority of whom Army of Northern Virginia put the
were volunteers, not conscripts to same numbers into the field each
fight in these numbers and at such Confederates of all classes spring from 1863 to 1865. Sick as they
personal cost? This, of course, is a
two-fold question: why did they saw themselves as resisting were of war, men went on fighting
out of loyalty and comradeship, and
enlist in the first place and why did
they go on fighting?
northern enslavement a sense of obligation to those who
had sacrificed their lives.
Securing the future of black
Defending a way of life A Georgian farmer signed up because: Our slavery, however, was what above all
Put simply, Confederates took up arms homes, our firesides, our land and negroes continued to animate Confederate troops.
to defend the independence their leaders and even the virtue of our fair ones is at One cavalryman deemed Lincolns
had declared during the winter of 186061. stake. A Virginian thought it far better to Emancipation Proclamation worth
State-by-state secession across the lower endure all the horrors of civil war than to 300,000 soldiers to our government at least.
south was designed to protect its slave-based see the dusky sons of Ham leading the fair It shows exactly what this war was brought
society from erosion even direct assault daughters of the south to the altar. about for and the intention of its damnable
by Lincolns incoming administration. Although most Confederate soldiers authors. The passage through Congress
The Confederate Vice President Alexander were non-slaveholders yeoman farmers of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery,
H Stephens frankly declared that the Souths and poor whites their attachment to spurred weary and stoic Confederates
new government was designed to guarantee slavery transcended class divisions. Too to stay in the field. It was only in the final
African slavery and put at rest, forever, all much can be made of the complaint of weeks of the war, when the Souths leaders
the agitating questions relating to our some that this was a rich mans war but a moved purposefully to arm black slaves, that
peculiar institutions. poor mans fight. Slavery gave an equality the cord that bound commanders and
Lincolns assault on southern of racial status to all white men, mostly common soldiers snapped. If we are reduced
independence attempting to re-supply unified by a belief in the institutions to that extremity, one exasperated private
the federal fort in Charleston harbour and scriptural integrity and godliness, and wrote about black enlistment, stop the war
thus provoking Confederate fire prompted in its virtuous protection of white families at once and let us come home, for if we are
a fever of enlistments across the seceded within a society where four out of 10 people to depend on the slaves for our freedom it

states, soon increased by a further four were black. In 1861, all Confederates, is gone away anyway.

24 BBC History Magazine

Why people fought: the North

General George B McClellan rallies his

troops at the battle of Antietam in 1862, a
point in the conflict when all those fighting
in the Union army were volunteers


Why people fought: the North


Northerners saw American mass democracy as a system of government
that had to be defended from secessionists, writes Richard Carwardine

n mobilising more than two million the war progressed. Every day I have a more Democratic Party loyalists prompted
men during the course of the war religious feeling, that this war is a crusade dyspeptic fury at talk of freedom for blacks.
more than 90 per cent of them for the good of mankind, one officer Irish-Americans, economic competitors
volunteers the Union recruited explained; it was unbearable to think of with African-Americans for the poorest
twice as many combatants as the what my children would be if we were to jobs and exponents of a deeply conservative
Confederates but at a relatively lower permit this hell-begotten conspiracy to racial philosophy nurtured by the Catholic
cost. The total in arms represented just destroy this country. Church, were salient opponents of an
half of the Norths military-age population. abolition war. Lincolns Emancipation
Casualty rates, too, were half those suffered The growth in abolitionism Proclamation horrified men of this cast.
by the South. Even so, the grievous numbers Relatively few of the early volunteers were I did not come out to fight for the nigger,
of dead and wounded prompt similar committed abolitionists, but by the summer spat a New York officer. The president
questions about what it was that impelled of 1862 a substantial minority possibly a ought to be lashed up to four big fat niggers
men to volunteer to fight, to keep fighting, majority of men in arms understood the and left to wander about with them the
and in many cases to re-enlist at the end of need to destroy the peculiar institution if balance of his life. With the arrival of
their three-year term of service. the Union were to be preserved. Since the conscription in 1863, these prejudices
slave power had caused the rebellion, how boiled over into rioting and the murder
Against anarchy of African-Americans on the streets
Young men of the Union leapt to of New York City.
arms for many of the same motives Immigrant volunteers for the Over time, however, a combination
that impelled southerners: a desire of antislavery humanitarianism and
for glory, the thrill of adventure, an Union saw secession as a pragmatism turned the Union forces
assertion of manhood. But there were
profound differences too. Above all,
step to balkanised perdition into an army of liberation. Lincolns
emancipation edict, in sanctioning
soldiers understanding of the Union black enlistments, gave free blacks
cause at the outset had less obviously to do could the war end without ending slavery? and refugee slaves some 200,000 in total
with material interest than with a political Such views became all the more common by the end of the war the chance to fight
vision: the defence of a government deemed as Federal troops advanced. A Union officer for full freedom and citizenship. Union
unique in world history. Rebellion had to writing home declared: I am no troops attitudes had so far evolved by
be put down to show that American mass abolitionist. But the more I see of slavery in the final months of the war that in the
democracy and representative government all its enormity the more I am satisfied that presidential election of 1864, most white
was no transitory experiment but a durable it is a curse to our country. Quite apart soldiers four out of every five voted for
and God-given model for humankind. from its cruelties, the institution, in stifling Lincolns vision of an emancipated Union
One recruit considered it a struggle of economic enterprise, appeared as much a and a new birth of freedom. By then,
government against anarchy, law against curse to the whites as the blacks and kills they would stop at nothing short of an
disorder. Immigrant volunteers for the industry and improvements of every kind. unconditional surrender of the South to
Union a quarter of all recruits saw Above all, slave labour kept southern farms prove, as one put it, that the American
secession, if unchallenged, as the first step running and freed up able-bodied whites people can and will govern themselves and
on the road to further separations that for the front line: why, in that case, should that our country is indeed the land of the
would condemn the country to balkanised the advancing northern armies not free and the home of the brave.
perdition. German, Irish and other confiscate slave owners property and
nationalist revolutionaries of 1848 hurried welcome slaves into the Union lines? Richard Carwardine is President of Corpus
to fight for a Union that they perceived, in Emancipation, inevitably, was a Christi College, Oxford. He is the author of the
Lincolns phrase, to be the last best hope of divisive issue in the Union camps. The acclaimed biography Lincoln: A Life of Purpose

earth. This impulse lost none of its power as race prejudice that especially animated and Power (Knopf, 2006)

BBC History Magazine 27

Lincoln: man on a mission

Lincoln believed that the

Union was the last, best
hope of earth, so he was
prepared to go to war to
defend it and the values
that it represented
Lincoln: man on a mission

man on a mission
Why was the 16th president ready to engage in a civil war to preserve the Union,
asks Richard Carwardine, and what was the fervent ideology that sustained
him as he led the country through its moral and military crisis?

N 14 APRIL 1865, the government spoke to people around to protect domestic manufacturing
actor John Wilkes Booth the globe. The worlds embrace of and improved credit facilities.
pulled the trigger to Lincoln and what he represented may More often, however, Lincoln
send Abraham Lincoln be seen as the counterpart of his own addressed the political purpose
to a premature grave and, in doing broad grasp of the world beyond the of the Union and the moral
so, shot a president at his moment United States. magnificence of institutions
of greatest triumph, just days after In his inaugural presidential founded on the cornerstones of the
the end of the civil war that had address in 1861, Lincoln called the Declaration of Independence, with
quashed rebellion and begun the Union this favoured land by its celebration of human equality,
final emancipation of slaves. implication, a nation superior to and the Federal Constitution, the
Had he lived to see out his second others. This was not a superiority guarantor of freedom. These legacies
term, Lincoln would surely have based on muscle: during Lincolns of the American Revolution had
been ground down by the issues lifetime, the United States remained bequeathed the country a unique
raised by national reconstruction, a debtor nation that steered clear of liberty (far exceeding that of any
with inevitable consequences for his entangling alliances with European other of the nations of the earth),
historical standing. But his murder powers and while pursuing its own whose distinctive features included
significantly, on Good Friday saw continental empire had to accept government by the consent of the
him canonised as the martyr of the Britains dominance of the seas. governed, a bill of rights to
American Union. A contemporary Among the strands in the rope that
journalist understood exactly what bound Lincoln so resolutely to the
was at work in the aftermath of his Union was a deep faith in the nations The legacies of the American
shooting: It has made it impossible natural bounty and physical grandeur.
to speak the truth of Abraham Growing up in Kentucky and Indiana, Revolution had bequeathed
Lincoln hereafter. and arriving as a young man in the
infant state of Illinois, Lincoln shared
the country a unique liberty
The Great Emancipator the faith of the emerging Whig party
Lincolns death occasioned a torrent championing an ambitious, federally
of sorrow not only at home but in sponsored programme of economic
the world at large. Messages of improvement in the unique
condolence emanated from national natural resources of the undeveloped
and municipal governments, and, country and the potential for its
more revealingly, from hundreds of modernisation. As he told an audience
voluntary organisations: churches, in Springfield, the Illinois state capital,
working mens improvement the American people possessed the
societies, ragged schools, anti-slavery fairest portion of the earth, as regards
and temperance societies, and extent of territory, fertility of soil, and
business and trade organisations. salubrity of climate.

The avalanche of tributes revealed Lincoln watched with pleasure the

the extent to which Lincoln had Unions galloping economic progress,
become a global figure. His political to which his political career in the
principles, his wartime leadership, 1830s and 1840s had been chiefly
his role as the Great Emancipator devoted, through the promotion of
and his resolute defence of popular ambitious transport schemes, tariffs A group of workers probably slaves grinds sugar in Georgia

BBC History Magazine 29

Lincoln: man on a mission

guarantee religious and civil

freedoms, a legal system capped
by a Supreme Court (the most
enlightened judicial tribunal in
the world), and a commitment
to meritocracy (to afford all, an
unfettered start, and a fair chance,
in the race of life).
In this he evinced his powerful
sense of American exceptionalism.
Most governments have been based,
practically, on the denial of equal
rights of men, he reflected in the
mid-1850s. By contrast, Ours began,
by affirming those rights. They said,
some men are too ignorant, and
vicious, to share in government.
Possibly so, said we; and, by your
system, you would always keep them
ignorant, and vicious. We proposed
to give all a chance; and we expected
the weak to grow stronger, the
ignorant, wiser; and all better, and
happier together.

A romantic vision
To the modern eye, Lincolns Lincoln became a symbol of American
freedom as iconic as Lady Liberty, the
celebration of the Union as an bald eagle and the stars and stripes
instrument of liberty and equality
appears inconsistent even
hypocritical given the reality of
American slaveholding. By 1860, those revolutions How nobly Lincolns powerful sense of
four million black slaves were held distinguished that People, who shall Americas exceptional place in the
as property by southern whites. have nurtured to maturity, both world was not based on first-hand
Their owners were mostly free to the political and moral freedom of experience. Until his 19th year, when
follow their own self-interests and their species. he took a flatboat to New Orleans,
appetites when it came to trading, Ultimately, Lincolns vision of the Lincoln knew only of the raw young
disciplining and sexually abusing Union drew on a romantic feeling communities of the upper south and
this unique species of property. allied to a providential interpretation midwest. Not until he was 38 did
Lincoln resolved the conflict he travel east to the nations capital.
between the countrys progressive Unlike several of his predecessors as
principles and the harsh reality Lincolns devotion to the president, Lincoln never ventured
of enslavement through his reading abroad. (He planned to do so after
of history: the nations fathers had Union reached the intensity his presidency.)
never intended that the peculiar
institution should be permanent.
of religious mysticism Lincolns perspective on the world
beyond the United States was shaped
Though they had seen no way of by the authors he read, the foreign-
immediately eliminating it, he of the nation as being the Almightys born visitors and citizens he met, and
argued, the Founders had, however, almost chosen people. In his his more cosmopolitan associates.
taken steps to place slavery where peroration to his first inaugural Above all, Lincoln was an inveterate
all sensible men understood, it was address he appealed to the mystic reader of the newspaper press: this
in the course of ultimate extinction. chords of memory, stretching from would be his key published source for
Lincoln was not a professed every battle field, and patriot grave, the analysis of contemporary foreign
Christian, but he did share some to every living heart and hearthstone, affairs. His reading gave him a keen
of the optimism of Protestantism. all over this broad land. sense of the United States escape
He yoked temperance reform with It was this romantic attachment from the autocratic forces of the
the political emancipation of 1776 to Union, based on far more than Old World, past and present.

and an aspiration to freedom for the the material benefits of nationhood, The ideological legacy of the
slaves: And when the victory shall that the southern states so seriously revolution fused with the defining
be complete when there shall be underestimated. It led Alexander foreign events of his own lifetime to
neither a slave nor a drunkard on the Stephens of Georgia, the Confederate give Lincoln a sharp appreciation of
earth how proud the title of that vice-president, to reflect that Lincolns his countrys place in the world. Those
Land, which may truly claim to be the devotion to the Union reached the events above all, the independence
birth-place and the cradle of both intensity of religious mysticism. movements led by Simn Bolvar and

30 BBC History Magazine

Lincoln: man on a mission

his successors within Spains New duty was shaped by Whig precepts,
World empire, and the nationalist not those of the Democratic party, The life of
uprisings and movements of
democratic protest in Europe in 1848
with its imperialist vision and stirring
ideas of manifest destiny.
Abraham Lincoln
were mediated for Lincoln through Lincolns capacious horizons
political friends and acquaintances explain why he was ready to engage Born on 12 February 1809, Lincoln was raised in
who knew them at first hand. in a war of daunting savagery to rural poverty in Kentucky and Indiana, moving to
Lincoln boasted no special preserve the Union. When, in April Illinois in 1830. Ambitious and self-educated, he
expertise in the internal affairs of 1861, South Carolinas secessionists practised as a lawyer in Springfield and served as a
other nations, and they were rarely turned their guns on the Union Whig in the state legislature before, after a term as
the theme of his political discourse. forces stationed at the federal fort in US congressman, largely withdrawing from politics.
He did, however, take a capacious Charleston harbour, firing the first The threat of the spread of slavery west across
view of the foibles and aspirations of shots of that bloody conflict, they the States rekindled his interest. Helping to organise
humankind. He was, above all, alert raised an issue that embraced, in the the antislavery Republican party, he won national
to the truth that men of ambition presidents own words, more than recognition in his 1858 debates with US senator
and talents will continue to spring the fate of these United States. Stephen Douglas, and secured his partys
up amongst us [and] naturally seek Southern secession presented to nomination for president in 1860.
the gratification of their ruling the whole family of man, the question, His election victory prompted the secession of the
passion. Constitutions could not whether a constitutional republic, lower south. In the subsequent resort to arms,
restrain an Alexander, a Caesar, or a democracy a government of Lincoln grew into the role of commander-in-chief
or a Napoleon. the people, by the same people can, and skillfully held together a fragile war
Lincolns conception of universal or cannot, maintain its territorial coalition. He kept the upper south
traits of human psychology and integrity, against its own domestic loyal, prevented the intervention
ambition was shaped and endorsed foes. It presents the question, whether of foreign powers, kept military
by his reading of the Scriptures discontented individuals can pressure on the Confederacy
and Shakespeare. In this universal always arbitrarily break up their across a broad front, and
struggle between liberty and tyranny, government, and thus practically proclaimed the emancipation of
between social progress and lethargy, put an end to free government upon the rebels slaves as a means of
Lincoln conferred on the United earth. These were sentiments he saving the Union. Re-elected to
States an international responsibility: would affirm throughout the war, in the presidency during the final
[A] new country is most the struggle for a vast future. months of the war, he was shot
favourable to the immancipation This was no argument of mere by the Confederate
of thought, and the consequent convenience: it was the reiteration of sympathiser John
advancement of civilisation and his lifelong view that The hope of Wilkes Booth before
the arts In anciently inhabited the friends of freedom throughout he could develop
countries, the dust of ages a real the world rests upon the perpetuity and implement his
downright old-fogyism seems to of this Union. policy of national
smother the intellects and energies reconstruction.
of man. Richard Carwardine is President of
Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He is Lincoln:
The cause of liberty commander,
the author of the acclaimed biography
Lincolns horizons stretched across Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power
the 19th-century world. When he (Knopf, 2006).
spoke in December 1862 of the
Union as the last, best hope of earth
he was saying that the civil war Lincoln meets with Allan Pinkerton (left)
constituted something more than an who had previously foiled an assassination
American crisis that progressive plot against the president and Major General
McClernand after the battle of Antetiam
forces throughout the world looked
to the United States as an unequalled
exemplar of liberty, and that it was
the nations mission to act as the
improver of humankind.
Lincoln shared the conviction,
common among his countrymen,
that the American Union was
the worlds best hope. He viewed
the European nationalist and
revolutionary movements of the
mid-19th century above all, in
Hungary, Ireland, Germany and
France as part of the general
cause of republican liberty. But
his understanding of Americas

BBC History Magazine 31

The story of the war

By 1861, the United States had been launched into a vicious civil war that
would last four years the next stage would be characterised by ferocious
battles, with heavy defeats and hard-won victories for both sides

11 Battle of Bull Run, 1861

ONE OF THE main reasons a expectation was that one quick
political conflict turned to war was and decisive battle would probably
that, in 1861, the vast majority of decide the fate of the rebellion.
Americans were not trying to seek Instead, the first big
an accommodation; they wanted confrontation between North and
a fight. A few wise heads on both South was a chaotic battle outside
sides knew that once war came Washington, near Bull Run creek,
it would be long and costly. For on 21 July 1861. The cavalry on
many, though, resorting to violence both sides seemingly operated
was not a sign of failure but a manly, at random, certainly without any
healthy, possibly even purifying way proper co-ordination with infantry
of resolving an intractable conflict. attacks. Troops mistook units
The Confederate government on their own side for the enemy.
was established in Richmond, After an inconclusive few hours of First blood Confederate troops and 2,896
Virginia, less than 100 miles due fighting, the Union army was sent The battle of Bull Union soldiers shocked both
Run revealed
south of Washington. Northern into a panic-stricken retreat by a organisational
sides profoundly. While
newspapers emblazoned, Forward Confederate attack. weaknesses on southerners rejoiced at victory,
to Richmond! atop their editorial The losses in this first great both sides northerners were forced to
pages. Volunteer troops gathered conflict were tiny compared to the confront for the first time the
in Washington in their makeshift carnage of later battles, yet at the scale of the undertaking they
uniforms. On all sides the time casualty figures of 1,982 had so blithely embraced.

12 Strategy and tactics

IN GRAND STRATEGIC terms, the Union needed to be on the offensive
in order to conquer the South. Yet the South took the offensive whenever
it could. General Lee invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania in the summers
of 1862 and 1863, taking the war onto northern soil, in part because there
was huge popular pressure on both sides to be seen to be on the attack.
However, technological innovations gave defending forces much greater
tactical strength. Whereas in the Mexican War the army was still using
smooth-bore muskets, by 1861 the use of rifled muskets and new conical-
shaped bullets called Mini balls greatly increased the accuracy of
firepower from a longer range. Towards the end of the war, entrenchments
and barbed wire notably in the long siege of Petersburg made the

conflict resemble the Western Front in the First World War.

Nevertheless, offensives against well-defended positions could still
succeed when commanders not only had a numerical advantage but were
Ready for combat Leading his army to fight General Lee, also prepared to be persistent and flexible as Grant and Sherman proved
General George B McClellan is cheered by Union supporters in 1864, and as British generals on the Western Front learned after 1916.

32 BBC History Magazine

The story of the war

13The Union No going back

General Benjamin F Butler
army and slavery classed runaway slaves as
contraband, allowing him
to free them without seeming
FROM THE MOMENT war began, abolitionists argued to favour emancipation
that a conflict caused by slaveholders could only be
ended by ending slavery, the taproot of the rebellion.
But other northerners vowed they wouldnt support an
abolition war. The official line from Lincoln was clear:
this was a war to restore the Union, with no other aim.
Yet the reality on the ground in the south meant the
Union army had to make de facto decisions about
whether to encourage the dismantling of slavery.
Wherever there was a Union military presence in
a slave state, enslaved people sought sanctuary.
Some Union generals sent them back to their owners.
Others allowed them to stay, and refugee camps grew
up around military camps.
It was General Benjamin F Butler, in command
of a Union-held enclave in Virginia, who found a
way of protecting runaway slaves without publicly
challenging the official line that the Union did not seek
emancipation. In the summer of 1861, he announced
that any fugitive slave who sought refuge with his
forces would be held as contraband of war.
This phrase deftly turned the argument that slaves
were property against southerners. Just as horses
or guns, if captured, could legitimately be impounded
since they were likely to be of military value to the
enemy then so too human property, likely to be used
to dig fortifications or supply the Confederate army,
could be seized and effectively freed. Contraband
became the normal term to describe runaway
slaves for the rest of the war. As the debate about
emancipation raged in the north, the reality was
always that, intentionally or otherwise, the Union
army was an instrument of emancipation.

14 Battle of Shiloh, 1862

MOST OF THE press attention was southward-flowing Tennessee
on the eastern theatre of the war and Cumberland Rivers to the
in Virginia. But in the first phase Union. These brilliant successes
of the war, during the winter and were followed, on 67 April 1862, by
spring of 18612, there was little a major battle at Shiloh in south-
action in the east as General-in- western Tennessee. Grants forces
Chief George B McClellan, a man were surprised by a Confederate
of enormous self-confidence who force under Albert Sidney Johnston
rejoiced in the moniker the Little and PGT Beauregard but, in the
Napoleon, painstakingly drilled bloodiest battle of the war to that
and built up his troops. point, the Union army held its
Meanwhile in the west, Union ground, helped by the timely arrival
commanders made big gains in of reinforcements.
a plan to force Confederate forces The outcome of Shiloh was that
out of Kentucky and Tennessee, and a Confederate counter-offensive
then take control of the Mississippi had been thwarted, albeit at heavy
River. In particular, General Ulysses cost. Grant was initially criticised
S Grant was stunningly successful for his part in the battle, but when
at putting this strategy into Lincoln was urged to remove him
Fierce battle Shiloh, Ulysses S Grant later said, convinced practice. He captured Fort Henry from command, he replied, I cant
him of the need to annihilate the Confederate army to win the war and Fort Donelson, opening up the spare this man, he fights.

BBC History Magazine 33

The story of the war

15 The Trent affair Southern

THE GREATEST DANGER of war between Britain and John Slidell
the USA came from a conflict over the rights of British (17931871) tried
unsuccessfully to
shipping. The US Navy tried to seize British merchant
garner French
vessels bound for neutral ports near the Confederate support for the
coast, such as the Bahamas or Cuba, on the grounds Confederate cause
that cargo was then to be transferred to southern
blockade-runners. On occasion, the US succeeded.
Britain had done much the same to American shipping
during the Napoleonic Wars, and at the time the US
had protested fiercely (the issue was one of the triggers
of the war of 1812). Now the roles were reversed.
The conflict came to a head on 8 November 1861,
when sailors from the USS San Jacinto boarded a
British ship, RMS Trent, 300 miles east of Havana, and
removed two Confederate envoys, James Mason and
John Slidell, en route to Europe to press Britain and
France for support. The British government was
furious at the violation of its flag and there was talk of
war. The diplomatic row was defused after US
secretary of state William Seward apologised and
released the envoys, insisting as he did so that the case
proved that the British had finally accepted the United
States conception of neutral shipping rights.
The larger issue was what role Britain might play
in the war. Northerners were frustrated by British
recognition of the South as a belligerent power
(although Britain never gave the Confederacy
diplomatic recognition) and angry about blockade-
running ships and a couple of naval vessels that were
built in British ports. The Confederacy for its part
hoped the cotton embargo would precipitate European
intervention of the kind that had tipped the balance for
the rebels in the War of Independence. It never came.

16 The Peninsula Campaign

IN THE PENINSULA Campaign undemonstrative taciturn man, Lee
of the spring of 1862, Union was to about to prove himself one
commander George B McClellan of the wiliest, most courageous and
launched the Army of the Potomac most effective commanders of the
in what he hoped would be the war. He believed the Confederacy
decisive move against the could counter the manpower
Confederacy. Rather than taking the advantage of the Union army only by
direct approach due south, troops seizing and keeping the initiative.
were sent by sea to the mouth of In a stunning series of victories
the James River from where they known as the Seven Days Battles,
approached the Confederate capital Lees leadership transformed the
Richmond from the east in a bid to Confederacys position in one week,
evade Confederate defences. forcing McClellans army back.
McClellan, who was fiercely Thereafter officers and men in the
opposed to emancipation, hoped Army of the Potomac developed
to fight a limited war according to the what almost amounted to an
highest principles known to inferiority complex in the face of
Christian civilisation. At first the Lees army, a spell that was only

plan seemed to go well as partially broken a year later at

Confederate forces fell back. But Gettysburg. McClellans star waned
then General Robert E Lee took field after the Peninsula Campaign and
Testing times In the Peninsula Campaign of spring 1862, the command of the Army of Northern with him the idea the war could be
Union troops, seen here, suffered a series of crushing defeats Virginia for the first time. An fought in a limited way.

34 BBC History Magazine

The story of the war

17Battle of
Antietam, 1862
IN SEPTEMBER 1862, Lee launched
the first of his two grand raids into
the north. In optimistic moments,
Confederate leaders hoped Lees
invasion might persuade Maryland
slaveholders to support the South
and foreign powers to recognise it,
but at the very least they wanted to
prove the North could never subdue
the South militarily.
The invasion culminated in a
battle at Antietam Creek near
Sharpsburg, Maryland, on 17 Northern excursion Antietam was a strategic victory for the Union, but won at huge cost
September. The conflict was a fluid,
confused and messy affair, with gruesome reputation, including By nightfall, at the cost of around
friendly fire compounding the Millers cornfield, which changed 23,000 casualties, the Confederate
difficulties of communication on hands six times in just a few hours, line had been pushed back a few
a large battle area where no one had and Bloody Lane, a sunken road hundred yards. Still, it was a victory
more than a partial view of the from which the rebel South held the for the Union, although to Lincolns
fighting. Particular spots on the attacking forces of the North at bay frustration McClellan failed to
battlefield acquired an especially for over three hours in late morning. pursue Lees forces after the battle.

18The Emancipation
Antietam was to be the final battle
of the first phase of the war. Just
a few days later, on 22 September
1862, Lincoln issued a proclamation
stating that if, by 1 January 1863,
the rebel states of the Confederacy
had not returned to the Union,
the United States would, from
that date onwards, regard slaves
held in rebel areas as free. This
Preliminary Emancipation
Proclamation had an incendiary
effect. It was an ultimatum to the
South: return to the Union within
100 days with slavery intact, or
face total destruction.
Confederate leader Jefferson
Davis called it the most execrable
measure in the history of guilty
man. The three-month delay was Loneliness of power David Gilmour Blythes depiction of Lincoln writing the Emancipation Proclamation
intended to send a clear message
that emancipation was a tool of war On 1 January 1863, the president rebel control, were exempted
rather than an end in itself. Like a duly issued the Emancipation from the proclamation. Lincoln
riot policeman giving notice that a Proclamation. It applied only to took a political and strategic risk
mob was about to fired upon if it did those areas of the United States in coupling together the fate of
not disperse, Lincoln wanted to give that were still in arms against the the Union with the fate of slavery.
the appearance of due process. government and much of the In some Union regiments there
But no one had any illusions: the document was taken up with a were near-mutinies at the news.
President had tied the Unions fate list of counties in rebel states that, But abolitionists rejoiced that at
to emancipation. because they were no longer under last the day of jubilee was at hand.

BBC History Magazine 35

The story of the war

19 Emancipation and racial Cruel system

A wood carving from 1863
attitudes in the Union Army clearly shows the scars on
the back of an escaped
slave from Mississippi
UNION SOLDIERS COMMONLY used his mother in Wisconsin about a a man named Gordon
terms such as darkie and nigger toothless old slave with one blind
in their letters. Even proudly eye who told him horrific stories of
antislavery soldiers exhibited an his wife and children having been
unquestioning racism. There was sold, of whippings and being hunted
no contradiction in holding racist by bloodhounds when he tried to
views while also thinking that a war escape. The stories, Cooke wrote,
against secession was inherently a were just like the ones in Uncle
war against slavery, and that the Toms Cabin and I believe them.
Confederacy was a repressive Some Union troops were
society that challenged American convinced by evangelical preachers
values of freedom and opportunity. and antislavery propaganda that
Encounters with runaway slaves expunging the sin of slavery would
had a dramatic impact on some redeem their country in Gods eyes.
Union soldiers. Black people were Some simply wanted black troops
exotic and fascinating to rural farm to be placed in the front line instead
boys from the north. In addition, of them. Most were probably
many soldiers interpreted their convinced by the much more
encounters with freed slaves in the pragmatic case that if the rebels
light of what they had heard and hated emancipation, then it must
read of the cruelties of slavery. be a good thing, a weapon to strike
Private Chauncey Cooke wrote to at the heart of southern society.

20 Battle of Fredericksburg, 1862

AFTER ANTIETAM, GENERAL Lincoln urged him to launch a fresh that his troops could not out-
Ambrose E Burnside replaced assault on Richmond immediately. manoeuvre the enemy. General
George B McClellan as the Burnsides immense army was Burnsides plan was to cross the
commander of the Army of the well supplied and even had hot-air Rappahannock river above the town
Potomac. He assumed command balloons for surveillance, so he of Fredericksburg, which lay on the
of the armys 120,000 men on 7 should have been able to outgun the direct route from Washington to
November 1862, and President Confederates. However it seemed Richmond. A delay in the arrival of
pontoon bridges meant that before
the Union army had even crossed
the river, General Lee had time to
concentrate his troops on the
heights behind Fredericksburg.
The Army of the Potomac eventually
made it across the river on 13
December 1862, but could get no
further. In repeated assaults up the
gentle rise of Maryes Heights, line
after line of the Norths soldiers
were cut down. The Union suffered
more than 12,500 casualties in the
day-long battle, and gained almost
no ground.
Once the news of Burnsides
defeat at Fredericksburg broke, it
seemed to inaugurate the bleakest
period of the entire civil war for the
North. President Lincoln summed

up the Unions perspective in one

succinct line: If there is a worse
place than Hell, I am in it, he told
a visitor when the reports of the
Thwarted Despite a strong numerical advantage, the Union was unable to take Fredericksburg in 1862 debacle came through.

36 BBC History Magazine

The story of the war

Lees finest hour

With 60,000 troops, Lee, with Jackson, fought off a Union force
of more than 130,000 men. Despite victory, the South suffered
huge casualties and was weakened for battles that lay ahead

21Battle of Jackson, divided his army in the into a martyred hero. In retrospect,
face of superior numbers and the battle of Chancellorsville was
Chancellorsville, 1863 outflanked Union troops. In a the high-tide mark of Confederate
three-day battle, Hooker made military success. It was certainly
ON 30 APRIL 1863, yet another error after error, mistaking the apogee of Lees military career.
Union commander, Joseph Jacksons flanking movement for a Once again, his army had out-
Hooker, crossed the Rappahannock retreat and finally abandoning the smarted and out-fought a larger,
River and tried to fight his way to one piece of high ground from which better-equipped Union force. But
Richmond. Hookers thinking was artillery could be used effectively in Hookers inept leadership had been
more subtle than Burnsides he wooded, undulating country. a major factor in the southern
crossed the river to the west of The relief of victory for the victory, and such incompetence
Fredericksburg with the aim of South was tempered by the death could not be relied upon indefinitely.
attacking the Confederates from of Jackson, who was accidentally The Confederates suffered huge
the side but the plan failed in its fired on by his own men, prompting losses and the difference in the size
execution. Audaciously, Lee, ably an outpouring of grief that of the armies could be disguised
supported by General Stonewall transformed the dead general by smart tactics only for so long.

22Union victories at
Gettysburg and Vicksburg, 1863
IN THE FIRST days of July 1863, person on the front lines to rally
two simultaneous military victories troops, which was something that
for the Union seemed to turn the he hadnt done in previous years.
tide in the war. The Confederates Meanwhile in the west, General
had launched another raid into the Grant scored a major breakthrough.
north, this time up the Shenandoah On 4 July, after more than six
Valley and into the state of weeks, of failed assaults, Grant
Pennsylvania. General George accepted the surrender of
Meade, the latest commander of the Confederate forces in the fortified
Army of the Potomac, led the forces river town of Vicksburg, the last
that finally defeated Lee in a fight at Confederate stronghold on the
Gettysburg during 13 July. Mississippi. With New Orleans
Lees army retreated back into having fallen the previous year after
Virginia but a spell of invincibility an assault from the sea, the South
had been broken. Lees army never was now split into two halves.
fully recovered from Gettysburg,
in spirit or in numbers. His officer
corps and command structure were Turn to page 70 to find out
hit especially hard. Never again how riots, speeches and sieges led
Missed chance? in the war would Lee be able to rely to Confederate surrender in the final
General Meade (181572), who led Union troops to victory at on his officers as he had done in chapter of The Story of the War
Gettsyburg, was criticised for not pursuing Lees force as it retreated 1862. In 1864, he had to appear in

BBC History Magazine 37

Life in the war-torn south

Fought largely on southern soil, the civil war deeply affected civilian life in the
Confederacy, says David Anderson. It tore families apart, left children destitute,
meant new roles for women and brought challenges for black and white alike

HORTLY AFTER old when war began, Kate began her These sentiments with a
ROBERT E Lee diary in May 1861, as Confederate cacophony of other voices greeting
surrendered the Army regiments formed amid eager fanfare, the sectional crisis with a similar
of Northern Virginia at southern men inspired by dreams of poise and confidence contrast
Appomattox Court House on 9 April glory and the thrilling adventure that sharply with the insecurities and
1865, Kate Stone, an insightful and lay ahead. Ill-prepared for military uncertainties expressed by many
erudite southern woman, began her discipline, their lack of martial Confederate soldiers and civilians at
journal entry by acknowledging that experience made the horrors of wars end, with their dream of an
momentous occasion. modern warfare incomprehensible. independent southern republic in
Conquered, Submission, Nevertheless, Confederate volunteers ruins and their social and economic
Subjugation are words that burn into were impatient to come to blows system torn apart.
my heart, and yet I feel that we are with the enemy, to defend homes,
doomed to know them in all their property and honour against War on southern soil
bitterness, she confessed. With her cowardly Yankee invaders. Over the past several decades,
mother, five brothers and younger historians have examined a rich and
sister, Kate had fled Brokenburn, the wide variety of sources from official
family plantation in northeastern documents to private correspondence
Louisiana, to Mississippi and then to
Texas during the American Civil War.
ARKANSAS Some of my to offer new perspectives on specific
features of the Confederate home
Confederate defeat and the untimely dear brethren are stripped front experience during the civil war.
deaths of two of her brothers made Less concerned with battles,
the swirl of history unbearable. of nearly everything by these campaigns and military leadership
Our glorious struggle of the last
four years, our hardships, our
northern invaders and ranging broadly in analytical
focus, much of this scholarly
sacrifices, and worst of all, the discussion has sought to understand
torrents of noble blood that have William H Barksdale, 19 July 1862 the consequential impact that
been shed for our loved Country internecine war had upon the souths
all, all in vain, she wailed. The best citizenry men and women, rich and
and the bravest of the South sacrificed In those early months, Kates diary poor, white and black.
and for nothing. Overcome by entries illuminate the conviction in Because it was fought almost
grief, Kate wanted only to forget. southern independence as a riposte exclusivley on southern soil, the civil
In the immediate aftermath of the to northern belligerence towards war directly affected southern civilian
Confederate artillery bombardment southern values and interests. We life. Perhaps the most obvious effect
of Fort Sumter in 1861 and Lincolns should make a stand for our rights was that the conflict turned tens of
subsequent appeal to northern state and a nation fighting for its own thousands of planters, yeomen and
governors for 75,000 troops, the homes and liberty cannot be poor whites into soldiers. At first,
rhetoric of many white southerners overwhelmed, she explained. men volunteered but then

had been so different. Twenty years Our Cause is just and must prevail. conscription began (albeit with

38 BBC History Magazine

Life in the war-torn south

Patriotic men eagerly volunteered, as shown here at Woodstock,

Virginia but their absence was keenly felt across the south

exemptions related to occupation). children wrote to his wife upon of the southern cause and noisily
Although most Confederate soldiers learning that one of the children had encouraged their husbands, brothers
were native born and subsistence died: If it were not for the love of my and sons to enlist, willing them to
farmers, southern men from a variety country and family and the patriotism satisfy the demands of southern
of social backgrounds and that burns in my bosom for them I manhood in an honorific society.
occupations served, including skilled would be glad to come home and stay The absence of men from
labourers and professionals. there but I know I have as much to fight southern families, communities and
Service in the Confederate armed for as anybody else. states exerted a toll on those left
forces deeply affected southern home Many soldier husbands and sons behind on farms and in towns and
life and imposed major changes on clung tenaciously to reminders of cities. Confederate wives, sisters and
the domestic environment. Familial home and loved ones now far away. daughters, limited to subordinate
duty and patriotic obligation ensured Homesickness struck those displaced roles and activities in antebellum
few households avoided the loss of from home and hearth with remarkable society, suddenly gained new and
husbands and sons to the fight, while consistency, as letters and newspapers unprecedented responsibilities with
at the same time bearing the material even sentimental music both the outbreak of the civil war. These
hardships and socio-economic shrank and magnified its anguish. responsibilities were well outside the
disruptions to sustain the war effort. In 1861, many southern women parameters of what was considered
Now, in the condition to which had been forthright in their defence appropriate for 19th-century
our country is now plunged, a American women.
Virginian impressed upon his cousin,
it is the duty of every man, woman New roles for women
and child who can understand the
difference between Liberty and
VIRGINIA [When freedom With so many men away, white
women across the Confederacys few
Vassalism, to do all in their power no came] we was dancin an urban areas and rural communities
matter what that may be and assist assumed the practical and financial
in driving back the foe. prancin an yellin wid a management of plantations, farms
As historian James M McPherson
has observed, the outbreak of hostilities big barn fir [bonfire] jus and businesses, adding to prescribed,
traditional roles such as child rearing
brought into sharp focus southern
mens dual responsibilities to country
ablazin an de white folks and tending to crops and livestock.
Affluent planters wives and other
and family by the conviction that in not darin to come outside elite women engaged in voluntary
fighting for one they were protecting and fundraising activities to
the other, particularly after major de big house provision Confederate soldiers with
Union offensives into southern food, clothes and other necessities.
territory in 1862. An Alabama Annie Harris, a former slave Moreover, white women
cavalryman and father to seven volunteered as nurses, which

BBC History Magazine 39

Life in the war-torn south

hitherto had been a traditionally shortages and high prices led groups Communities in Tennessee and
male vocation. In hastily erected of destitute women to riot in Virginia, agricultural heartland and
army hospitals at home or close Richmond and other cities, and seize major food producing regions where
to the front lines, nurses such as food from shops and warehouses. much of the early fighting took place,
Edinburgh-born Kate Cumming The souths largest plantations, had to tolerate marauding Union
and Phoebe Yates Pember of South with an enslaved labour force of over armies and were forced to live under
Carolina cared for thousands three million, grew cash crops such Union occupation.
of Confederate wounded during as cotton and tobacco, exacerbating In Georgia and the Carolinas, where
the war. the food problem. As one incidence late in 1864 the Unions General
of internal dissent, these riots served Sherman waged psychological warfare
The poor hit hardest to magnify social tensions in the against an increasingly war-weary
Although southern white women of Confederacy and weaken support for population, total war impacted
all social classes struggled to support southern independence, leading disastrously on southern economic
themselves and their families, the and military infrastructure. Where
Confederacys poor whites were hit political divisions between
especially hard by the collapse of secessionists and unionists ran deep
Confederate infrastructure and
productive capacity as war dragged
TENNESSEE When I shall such as western Virginia and
eastern Tennessee, and in Missouri
on. Some, particularly widows, were have made up my mind to and Kentucky, two states that had not
so overwhelmed that they abandoned seceded from the Union the civil
their homes and farms, living as go to hell, I will cut my war bitterly divided households,
nomadic refugees, or in penury
dependent upon charity or the
throat, and go direct, and not setting father against son and brother
against brother. Kentucky Senator
benevolence of others to sustain their travel round by way of the John J Crittendens sons, for example,
families. A South Carolina newspaper fought on opposing sides, both rising
wrote The duties of war have called Southern Confederacy to the rank of general.
away from home the sole supports of The civil war, in profound ways,
many, many families Help must be William G Parson Brownlow, southern unionist affected Americas children. Historian
given, or the poor will suffer. James Marten writes that it
Pleading their case to Zebulon politicised children on both sides of
Vance, Governor of North Carolina, many soldiers often at the the conflict, influencing how they
impoverished women from Bladen insistence of their wives to desert viewed the world, their country, their
County petitioned that they faced and return home to take care of their communities, and themselves.
starvation because of increased costs farms and families. Southern children experienced
and determd to have bredd [bread] The impact on those civilians privation and suffering as a dearth of
out of these barns & that at a price living in the midst of war in the food, fuel and clothing behind the
that we can pay. The cumulative Confederacys slave-holding border lines affected the material condition
effect of runaway inflation, food states was especially marked. of southern families.
Christmas highlighted the
yawning chasm between prewar
plenty and wartime want. The
daughter of a Georgia plantation
widow was left bitterly disappointed
one Christmas morning when she

Hungry and helpless with men away at

Southern women found new roles, especially in nursing, which would have been restricted in pre-war society war, destitute women rioted for bread

40 BBC History Magazine

Life in the war-torn south

The gradual collapse of slavery meant great changes in the lives of slaves. Large
numbers were scattered to camps, such as this one in Richmond, Virginia, in 1865

leapt from her bed to unwrap her only those slaves in the Confederate their concerns. Other slave owners
presents. Upon finding her states still in rebellion, effectively were troubled by northern influence
Christmas stocking empty, she crept ended Confederate hopes that the over slave fidelity, as with serious
back into her bed, pulled the cover strength and influence of King manpower shortages the task of
over her face, and began to cry. Toys Cotton might secure diplomatic overseeing plantation slaves fell to
and decorations were usually recognition from Europe, white women who struggled to
homemade because of crippling particularly Britain and France. contend with increasing slave
prices and the effectiveness of the The gradual collapse of slavery, the disobedience and refusal to work,
Union blockade at curtailing souths peculiar institution, wrought thus further depleting southern
commercial traffic through the immediate and radical changes in the agricultural output.
Confederacys ports and harbours. lives of slaves, at once scattering large The 11 Confederate states, with
a population of around 9 million
Yankees shot Santa (a third of whom were slaves), stood
To lift the childrens spirits, one against 22 million northerners and
ingenious Richmond family
decorated their Christmas tree with
LOUISIANA In these were overwhelmed in terms of
manufacturing capacity and mass
the ears and tails of butchered hogs;
the tails garlanded with paper, the
few months my childhood transportation facilities. Efforts to
understand the Confederacys fight
ears doubling as candle holders. had slipped from me, for survival and eventual collapse
Common gifts included various have supported new ideas among
fruits and assortments of nuts, candy, never to return civil war scholars in discussing how
popcorn and cakes. Others were not we should understand the history
so lucky. General Howell Cobbs Cline Frmaux Garcia, aged 12, an inhabitant of of the Confederate home front.
children were told that nefarious Port Hudson, Louisiana, prior to its siege in 1863 This has enhanced awareness of the
Yankees had shot Santa Claus. challenges white and black
Following the battle of Antietam southerners faced according to
in September 1862, Lincoln issued numbers of husbands, wives and geographic location and most
his preliminary Emancipation their children to camps, and significantly by race, class and gender
Proclamation, which would take reuniting families separated by sale over four long years of war.
effect on New Years Day 1863, or the dislocation of war.
allowing blacks to fight to secure Shortly after the outbreak of the Dr David Anderson is lecturer in
their own freedom. Now as much a war, Virginians worried that the American Studies at Swansea University,
war to preserve the Union as one to slave population is becoming restless specialising in the social and cultural
end slavery, the issuance of the and discontented and wrote to the history of the south before, during and
Proclamation, which would free Confederate government to express after the American Civil War

BBC History Magazine 41

Foreign volunteers

Foreign volunteers in the civil war
Armies in both north and south attracted thousands of recruits
from overseas, says Amanda Foreman. Whether driven by idealism or
attracted by large cash bounties, these immigrants made the fight their
own and altered their lives forever

T HAS LONG been a truism that just before the war broke out. A little more the tally jumped to 199,811 in 1863 and
thousands of foreigners fought in than four million of them had been born 221,525 in 1864.
the civil war. The South complained abroad. The majority of these foreign-born In 1863, British Home Office officials
bitterly that the Norths ability to Americans lived in the north; only about did express some alarm that the war might
recruit foreign volunteers and pay them 233,650 lived in the south. When it came to cause a manpower shortage. But an analysis
bounties meant the cards were stacked volunteering, the immigrants in the north of passengers lists from Atlantic steamships
against the Confederacy from the start. But stepped forward. Of the two million put minds at rest. The numbers of young,
while no one has ever disputed the fact that individuals who enlisted on the Union unmarried men travelling to America were
a large number of northern volunteers came side, a little less than a third had been born suspiciously high, but not enough to cause
from overseas, producing the numbers to abroad. Of the one million who enlisted more than a blip in the labour market.
back this claim is not straightforward. on the Confederate side, perhaps as few So who did volunteer? The six examples
Two obstacles make the data difficult to as nine per cent were foreign-born. here reveal a surprising mix of class and
interpret. While muster rolls reveal a great Germans made up the largest contingent backgrounds. People became embroiled in
deal about a soldiers identity birthplace, at 200,000 volunteers. The Irish were next the war for all sorts of reasons. Some were
physical description, date of enlistment with 150,000, followed by the rest of the true believers in the causes of the North or
and war record nowhere does it say when British Isles at 150,000. The rest of Europe the South. Others were running away from
a soldier came to America. This makes it contributed a further 75,000; and British broken lives. Many stayed on after the war,

impossible to identify those who came over North Americans (Canadians) brought up but even those who returned were forever
specifically to fight. Second, there is a huge the rear with 50,000. changed by their experiences.
disparity between the number of surviving Not surprisingly, the number of
service records for the Union army immigrants slowed drastically when war Dr Amanda Foreman is FRSA senior visiting
compared to those for the Confederate. broke out. The southern ports were closed scholar at Queen Mary, University of London
The voice of the victor speaks loudest. by blockade, leaving just the north open and author of A World on Fire: an
Still, even with all the gaps and question for entry. Only 112,705 foreigners came Epic History of Two Nations
marks that abound, it is possible to create a in 1861, and 114,475 in 1862. But once Divided (Penguin, 2011)
rough picture of the two armies. We know the government began offering bounties,
from the 1860 census that there were
31,433,321 people living in the United States

42 BBC History Magazine

Foreign volunteers

The neer do well

James Horrocks

THE BOUNTIES OFFERED by the US government attracted all

kinds of volunteers. For men seeking to escape their lives
it was a like a dream come true.
In the summer of 1863, 19-year-old James Horrocks from
Bolton in Lancashire was facing the wrath of his family and
community for having fathered an illegitimate child. Worse,
Horrocks refused to accept the child was his or to marry the
mother. When the pressure became too much he simply ran
away. The next time the Horrocks family heard from James
he was in New Jersey, having enlisted in the Fifth New Jersey
Artillery under the name of Andrew Ross.
I shall get when mustered in $200 from the state of New
Jersey, $50 from Hudson City (where I enlisted) and $25 from
the government, he wrote. This, together with a months pay
in advance, will make $288 cash. I shall be able to save more
money as a soldier than as a clerk with $400 a year (that is a
pretty good salary in New York). He reassured his shocked
Irish-born Hill nursed Confederate soldiers through horrific battles parents there was no need to worry: I fully intend to desert
if I dont get good treatment.
The angel of mercy Horrocks did not desert although at times he became
Mary Sophia Hill quite fed up and fought the entire nine-month campaign
known as the Siege of Petersburg. When Richmond fell to
THERE IS NO record of a woman from the British Isles putting General Grant on 3 April 1865, James was among the
on a uniform to fight in the war. But they did serve as nurses victorious Union troops that poured into the city. He spent the
in hospitals and field stations. A few women were properly night on the floor in one of the bedrooms in the Confederate
trained one, Elizabeth Blackwell, had a medical degree and White House. So I had the honour of sleeping in the house
trained at St Barts but most were like Mary Sophia Hill, who of [Confederate leader] Jeff Davis, he wrote to his brother,
learned how to treat a bullet wound on a live patient. if there is any honour in that.
Miss Hill was living in New Orleans when the war broke Horrocks did not return to England and made a new life
out, running a girls seminary with her twin brother, Sam. She for himself in Missouri.
was Anglo-Irish, in her early 40s, and a thorough convert to
the southern cause. When Sam joined the Sixth Louisiana
Volunteers, Mary joined with him as the regiments nurse.
Beginning with the battle of Bull Run in July 1861, Mary stayed
with the Sixth Louisiana for the next two years. She cleaned,
bandaged, fed and comforted hundreds of wounded soldiers.
I heard and saw it all, Mary recorded in her memoir, war in
its grandeur and war in its meanness.
A furlough home to New Orleans in 1864 put an end to her
activities. The city was under Federal occupation, and a paid
informant denounced Mary as a Confederate spy. She was
arrested and found guilty of espionage by a military tribunal.
Eventually, the British Consul in New Orleans was able to
have her sentence commuted to banishment into the south,
but by then the war was nearly over. Mary never forgave the
US government for her incarceration. In 1872 she sued the
United States for false imprisonment in an international court
and won $1,560 in damages. Horrocks joined the Union army after running away from home in England

BBC History Magazine 43

Foreign volunteers

The professional soldier

John Fitzroy De Courcy

JOHN FITZROY DE COURCY, also known as the 31st Baron

Kinsale, lived for soldiering. After serving in the Crimean
War (185356), where he led a Turkish regiment, De Courcy
accepted a position to serve as the British magistrate on
the island of San Juan in the disputed waters around the
Washington Territory. He immediately regretted the decision.
With the exception of a few months in 1859 when there was a
tense stand-off between British and American troops over an
incident known as the Pig War, there was absolutely nothing
for De Courcy to do.
The 40-year-old soldier volunteered his services to the
North as soon as the conflict began. Appointed Colonel of
Dawson began his career in the Souths army as a sailor on a ship the 16th Ohio Volunteers, De Courcy led his troops through
some of the most difficult terrain in the war. He was always
The idealist pitted against impossible odds, whether it was an attempt
Francis Warrington Dawson to recapture the Cumberland Gap, where a single mountain
pass links Tennessee with Kentucky and Virginia, or attacking
IN LATE 1861, a 21-year-old Londoner named Austin Reeks Confederate forces protected by the steep bluffs of the
said goodbye to his family, gave himself the new identity Chickasaw Bayou in Mississippi.
of Francis Dawson and snuck onto the Confederate states De Courcys war record never properly reflected his
steamer Nashville, then at Southampton. As Austin, the youth bold leadership nor the courage of his men. A dispute with
had been carving out an unsuccessful career as a playwright. General Ambrose Burnside led to his resignation in 1864.
As Francis, he was still a dreamer, but now he was a knight At De Courcys farewell dinner, the 16th Ohio presented him
errant on a mission to help the Confederacy to victory. My with a commemorative sword, sash and belt. He replied in
idea simply was to go to the south, do my duty there as well response: If I did well, it was because they did better.
as I might and return home to England, he later wrote.
The southern authorities were as amazed as the captain
of CSS Nashville, who noted that Francis had left family,
friends, and every tie to espouse our cause and not to be
put off by any difficulties thrown in his way, insisted upon
serving under our flag, performing the most menial duties
of an ordinary seaman. Having started out in the navy,
Francis soon joined the Confederate army where he served
on General Longstreets staff as his ordnance officer. He
was wounded three and captured once.
Franciss devotion to the South never waned. He was
present at Robert E Lees final stand at Five Forks outside
Richmond on 1 April 1865. It was very difficult to rally the
men, wrote Francis. One fellow whom I halted as he was
running to the rear, and whom I threatened to shoot if he

did not stop, looked up in my face and, raising his carbine,

fired it in the air and resumed his flight. It made me laugh,
angry as I was.
Shortly after that incident, a Union bullet buried itself
in Franciss shoulder and he was invalided out of the war,
five weeks before its official end. Like James Horrocks,
Francis remained in the US after the conflict. He became
a distinguished journalist and editor in Charleston. Professional soldier, De Courcy, right, led Union troops into bitter battles

44 BBC History Magazine

Foreign volunteers

The reporter
Frank Vizetelly

FRANK VIZETELLY belonged to a famous family of Anglo-

Italian printers who had been a fixture on Fleet Street, London
since the 18th century. Frank was the younger brother of
Henry, who helped found The Illustrated London News. By the
time the American Civil War started Frank had covered
numerous campaigns across Europe, including Giuseppe
Garibaldis conquest of Sicily.
A hard-drinking, hard-living journalist, Frank didnt
just like to report on wars: whenever he could, he would take
sides and join in. At the beginning of the civil war, Franks
sympathies were entirely pro-northern, but Washingtons
ill-conceived persecution of British journalists pushed Frank
into Confederate arms. By late 1862, he had become come an
ardent southern partisan.
His reports and sketches for the Illustrated News are
among the most vivid of the war precisely because he was
always in the thick of the action, urging his friends on. Frank
often travelled with Times reporter Francis Lawley and the
Grenfell, seen second from the right, joined the Souths secret service two made a formidable duo. However, it was Frank who
stayed at his post right to the bitter end. It is his sketches
The spy and reports that provide the only outside testimony to the
Colonel George St Leger Grenfell last days of the Confederate government. He died in action
in 1883, while reporting on the Anglo-Sudan War.
COLONEL GRENFELL WAS a British soldier of fortune whose
aristocratic family had long since given up expecting him
to settle down. Grenfell was 53 years old when the civil war
began. The swashbuckling nature of the southern irregulars,
known as Partisan Rangers, appealed to Grenfells sense
of adventure. He had no hesitation in offering his services to
the Confederacy, although his abhorrence of slavery would
lead him into conflict with his superiors.
The first two years of the war were the happiest for
Grenfell, when he spent sme time riding alongside the
popular hero General John Hunt Morgan, harassing Union
troops in Kentucky. His move to the regular southern army
under General Bragg was less successful and Grenfell
eventually resigned his commission in 1864.
Instead of going home, Grenfell joined the Confederate
secret service on a mission to lead an uprising in Chicago.
Known as the north-western conspiracy, the plan involved
Grenfell playing the part of an English tourist while he
secretly prepared to lead an attack on the prisons holding
Confederate prisoners of war. The plot was exposed, leading
to the arrest of more than 100 insurgents.
Grenfell was sentenced to death, commuted to life
imprisonment on the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
After enduring three years of constant beatings, Grenfell and
two friends tried to escape and were drowned in a storm. Getting involved in the action, Vizetellys reports are graphic accounts

BBC History Magazine 45

The civil war in photos

The civil war

in photos
That this most bloody of wars still seems vivid and familiar is partly thanks
to the intrepid photographers who recorded key events and people it was
arguably the first major conflict to be extensively photographed. Mike Musick
explores the significance of nine of the most enduring images

Deck and turret of USS earlier in the battle of Hampton Roads, Hawthorne to lament that All the pomp and
Monitor in the James River, which was the worlds first fight between splendor of naval warfare are gone by.
Virginia, 9 July 1862 ironclads steam-propelled warships The Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras,
protected with iron or steel plates. The North Carolina, in a storm on 30 December
This image, by photographer James F Gibson, dramatic arrival of the newly commissioned 1862, but by that point she had inspired an
shows two US Navy officers examining the Monitor in that battle halted the seemingly entire class of American warships that sailed
revolving turret of the Monitor, brainchild of inexorable destruction of the Union fleet for decades more. Her wreck was discovered
Swedish-born engineer John Ericsson. which would have ended the blockade of in 1973 at a depth of around 70m (220ft);
Clearly visible are indentations made by the South (for more on the battle, see p66). in March 2013, two crewmen found in the
shots fired at her by CSS Virginia (rebuilt from Wooden warships became obsolete almost turret were interred in Arlington National
the captured USS Merrimack) four months overnight, prompting the writer Nathaniel Cemetery, 150 years after she went down.

46 BBC History Magazine

The civil war in photos

President Lincoln
with General George B
McClellan and a group
of officers at Antietam,
Maryland, 3 October 1862

Adventurous photographer Alexander

Gardner made his way to the battlefield at
Antietam some weeks after the end of the
clash. There he captured images of Lincoln
conferring with McClellan. Little Mac would
later challenge Honest Abe for the White
House in the 1864 presidential election.
This picture shows the two leaders facing
each other, flanked by generals and staff
officers. George Armstrong Custer stands at
far right; at that time he was a captain on
McClellans staff, but is better known for his
part in the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876,
when he and his command were slaughtered.
The site of this photograph is the Grove
Farm, headquarters of Union General
Fitz-John Porter. Gardners Antietam images
cemented the importance of this spot, which
is now preserved and waymarked.

Confederate soldiers on
a bridge, Fredericksburg,
Virginia, 8 April 1863

This image was taken by Captain Andrew J

Russell, official photographer with the US
Military Railroad Construction Corps, or an
associate. It shows a group of Confederates
under Brigadier General William Barksdale,
gazing from the remains of a trestle over
the Rappahannock river. A temporary truce
has evidently been called; during such lulls
opposing troops would trade goods (and
insults). It is a rare picture of Confederate
soldiers in the field.
By studying the writing on several
prints, National Park Service historian Eric
J Mink has recently identified one of them.
The bearded officer standing on the right-
hand bridge timber (circled), is Captain
Andrew Robison Govan of B Company, 17th
Mississippi Infantry. Exceedingly popular
with the local ladies, Captain Govan had
helped repulse the Federals at the battle
of Fredericksburg on 1115 December of
the preceding year. He was cited by his
superiors for gallantry, coolness and skill.
A wound sustained on 20 September 1863
at the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia,
required the amputation of his leg and
resulted in his death.

BBC History Magazine 47

The civil war in photos

A Harvest of Death,
Gettysburg, July 1863

Timothy H OSullivans grim picture was

given its equally morbid title by Alexander
Gardner, who published it in his Photographic
Sketch Book of the War in 1866. It preserves,
in Gardners words, the blank horror and
reality of war, here exemplified by the Union
dead victims of the conflicts most costly
battle whom Lincoln extolled as having
given the last full measure of devotion.
Historians, most notably William
Frassanito, have studied OSullivans work
in detail. They have revealed how these
same bodies, photographed from different
angles, were used to represent both
Federal and Confederate dead, as well as
the far-removed spot where a general fell.
This illustrates how the camera, though
accurate, could by the use of false captions
be made to lie.

The dedication
ceremony at the
cemetery at Gettysburg,
19 November 1863

This enigmatic, broken glass plate, held in

the National Archives and unidentified for
over half a century, was ignored until
photo-archivist Josephine Cobb brought it to
light in 1952. Today it is recognised as a
priceless treasure.
Cobb, following her intuition, researched
its background, enlarged it, and studied it in
detail. She was able to demonstrate
conclusively that this image shows a
bare-headed Lincoln (circled) surrounded
by dignitaries and citizens at the dedication
of the newly established cemetery for the
Union dead at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Lincolns Gettysburg Address, as it
came to be known, received only a modicum

of attention during the war. But by the

start of the 20th century and, to an even
greater extent, in the years since it came
to be cherished by millions of Americans
as the greatest utterance of their greatest
president, a transcendent expression of the
nations aspirations.

48 BBC History Magazine

The civil war in photos

George N Barnards City of the South. At the right of the scene is of home, risking financial loss and,
photographic equipment the portable darkroom tent, equipment and sometimes, their lives to imprint on fragile
south-east of Atlanta, assistant of photographer George Barnard. glass plates the look and feel of history as it
Georgia, 1864 The overwhelming majority of unfolded in the field. The technology of the
photographs taken during the war were time essentially prevented the capture of
With their arms stacked nearby, a group of individual portraits, most posed in studios battle pictures, but these men stretched the
General William T Shermans tough, rangy safely behind the lines. Posterity owes a limits of their craft beyond what had
veterans sits at leisure atop Confederate great debt to Barnard and those other previously been deemed possible, bringing
trenches outside the town called the Gate intrepid artists who abandoned the security the reality of the war to the countrys eyes.

An unidentified African-American
soldier in Union uniform with his
wife and two daughters, c186365

In 1862, the Union army began to enlist black soldiers into its ranks.
Despite a tradition of such service dating back to the American
Revolution, by the middle of the 19th century, regulations forbade the
recruitment of black men, so this new policy seemed nothing short of
revolutionary. In total, some 200,000 African-Americans mustered
under the Stars and Stripes during the war; however, portraits of
black servicemen and their families are seldom encountered.
This photograph was found in Cecil County, Maryland, and
probably shows a member of one of seven regiments of United States
Colored Troops raised in that state, along with his family. In
Maryland, a border state that had not seceded, slavery ended in
1864. It wasnt until 13 March 1865 that the Confederacy allowed
black men to sign up as soldiers too late to make a difference.

BBC History Magazine 49

The civil war in photos

Auction & Negro Sales been an establishment in which humans does not boldly declare that he believes
on Whitehall Street (now were sold. At this time, Atlanta was an African slavery to be a social, moral, and
Peachtree Street), Atlanta, important railroad hub in north Georgia, but political blessing.

Georgia, late 1864 had not yet been made the state capital. By the time this image was made, slavery
Not long before this photograph was was tottering toward extinction. The city
George Barnards photograph shows a taken, a Georgia newspaper had announced had fallen to Sherman on 2 September, and
solitary Union corporal, rifle-musket at his that We regard every man in our midst an on 11 November he ordered its destruction,
side, stationed in front of what had formerly enemy to the institutions of the South, who sparing only its churches and hospitals.

50 BBC History Magazine

The civil war in photos

Adjusting the ropes for the hanging of

the conspirators in Lincolns assassination,
Washington, DC, 7 July 1865

Though John Wilkes Booth, Lincolns assassin, was shot dead before he could be arrested,
others involved in the plot were tried, convicted and executed. Alexander Gardner was
granted the exclusive opportunity to photograph the hangings, which he did in a series of
step-by-step images. This picture shows, from right to left, George Atzerodt, David E Herold
and Lewis Powell (alias Payne) being fitted with nooses. At the far left of the scaffold sits
Mary E Surratt, who kept the boarding house where the conspirators met, and whose son
was a Confederate Secret Service agent. Her hanging alongside the conspirators on 7 July
made her the first woman executed by the Federal government. Material held at the Surratt
Society in Clinton (formerly Surrattsville), Maryland, has been of enormous benefit to many
scholars researching the assassination.

Mike Musick is the retired Subject Area

Expert for the US Civil War at the National
Archives in Washington, DC

BBC History Magazine 51

Women & the civil war

Women played their part in

the civil war, as shown in this
1861 photograph of camp life
in the 31st Pennsylvania
Regiment of the Union army
Women & the civil war

Nurses, spies, gravediggers and even, masquerading as men, soldiers,
womens roles during the civil war were far more varied than the fictional
Scarlett OHara might suggest, says Catherine Clinton

HEN AMERICANS invasion of their family home in refused to allow a minister through for
CELEBRATED the the small Pennsylvania town of the burial of William Latan.
centenary of the Gettysburg. Following the epic battle This was immortalised in William
civil war in the in July 1863, when the dead and Washingtons popular painting, The
1960s, the image of Scarlett OHara, wounded left behind outnumbered Burial of Latan, which became one of
played by Vivien Leigh, standing the living 11 to one, Thorn struggled the most popular images on display in
before a Technicolor-drenched to dig graves for more than 100 of the southern white homes after the war.
panorama from the film Gone with 3,500 Union soldiers requiring burial.
the Wind (1939) served as a symbol She did this when in the last stages of Day-to-day struggle
for womens experiences on the home a difficult pregnancy during the long, Fears for death and dying were
front during the conflict. hot summer of 1863. Such was the ominipresent, but most women,
Half a century later, OHara toll of war imposed at a place where especially in the Confederate states,
retains her crown as an iconic image Lincoln would later give his famous struggled to survive amidst shortages,
of the lost cause, but modern address, delivered on 19 November stints as refugees and agonising
novelists have also given us civil war to commemorate a national delays to hear news from the front.
survivors such as Sethe (from Toni cemetery. On the Confederate side, African-American women, the
Morrisons Beloved), Ada Monroe Mrs Willoughby Newton reportedly overwhelming majority enslaved and
and Ruby Thewes (from Charles read a funeral service when pickets living within the south, were exposed
Fraziers Cold Mountain) and a new to even greater challenges. Some,
take on the world of Little Women like Susie King Taylor of Savannah,
in Geraldine Brookss Pultizer-prize
While in the last stages of Georgia, took advantage of wartime
winning March. Equally compelling,
historians continue to excavate
pregnancy, Elizabeth Thorn dislocations to liberate herself. The
intrepid young girl left behind her
non-fictional heroines, which dug graves at Gettysburg family and bondage when she
contributes to a more authentic
appreciation of the wars indelible
impact on womens lives.
Imagine a young white girl
trapped in the siege of Atlanta, a child
such as Carrie Berry, whose account
reveals war weariness, as she writes
on 3 August 1864: Wednesday. This
was my birthday. I was 10 years old,
But I did not have a cake, times were
too hard so I celebrated with ironing.
I hope by my next birthday we will
have peace in our land so that I can
have a nice dinner.

The misery of this little girl might

be measured against that of Elizabeth
Thorn, the wife of the Evergreen
Cemetery caretaker, whose husband
was off at war during the Confederate The Burial of Latan shows Mrs Willoughby Newton reading a funeral service for a fallen Confederate soldier

BBC History Magazine 53

Women & the civil war

A nurse treats two wounded soldiers. Many women were inspired by

the example of Florence Nightingales work in the Crimean War

sought Yankee protection in the

Union-occupied Sea Islands (from
which the planters had fled), running
off as a teenager in April 1862.
Literate and articulate, she was put
in charge of teaching other black
refugees in temporary outdoor
schoolrooms. She became a nurse to
many of the wounded soldiers and a
champion of black equality.
She was joined in the Union Escaped slave Susie
King Taylor tended
hospital tents by volunteer Clara black soldiers
Barton, who like many other intrepid
Yankees left conventional domestic
roles behind for service. Dorothea
Dix was superintendent of army Sarah Rosetta Wakeman adopted a male persona, Lyons Wakeman, and served as a soldier
nurses for the Federal forces.
Katharine Wormeley was one of the
first women to serve on a hospital served as soldiers, disguising main struggling to preserve families,
ship. Sally Tompkins established a themselves as men to enlist for to promote virtue and patriotism,
hospital in a Richmond home and service and even combat, with a and to preserve the glory of their
was awarded the rank of captain by variety of motives and outcomes. causes won or lost. A large
Confederate leader Jefferson Davis. Union advocate Sarah Rosetta contingent of northern women
Wakeman enlisted as a man, and died moved into activist and reform
Military roles in the Red River Campaign in June circles during the war. They ranged
Several women contributed to their 1864. Canadian-born Sarah Emma from those who organised the
patriotic cause by serving as spies. Womens Central Association of
Rose Greenhow was credited with Relief, including pioneering
smuggling intelligence to the Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew physician Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, to
Confederacy from her home in those who volunteered to travel south
Washington, information which pretended to be feeble- to serve as teachers in the Sea Islands
contributed to success at the first
battle of Bull Run in 1861. Since she
minded to gather secrets where Susie King Taylor first found
her freedom. All were sidelined once
was moved from house arrest to a cell the civil war concluded.

at the Old Capitol Prison, where she Edmonds survived her wartime Several tried to maintain wartime
was confined with her eight-year-old experience fighting as Union Private gains, to continue to serve in
daughter, clearly her role as a spy Franklin Thompson. She published previously all-male preserves such as
was acknowledged by both sides. her autobiography, embellished with the US Treasury. The US economy
Richmond resident Elizabeth Van images of herself as a woman boomed during wartime, with the
Lew was at the centre of a network of alongside a portrait of herself influx of immigrants into the
informants reporting to the Yankee disguised as a soldier. She wasnt the country uninterrupted by either the
command. She wandered the streets only cross-dressing soldier who call to arms or four embattled years.
freely gathering information and published a memoir of her exploits. With the cessation of war, women
pretending she was feeble minded, Beyond these few impermissible stood ready to reap the peace benefit.
becoming known as Crazy Bet. patriots the ordinary and everyday It was with some disappointment
The only women more intrepid experiences of wartime women then that many women reformers,
during this period were those who demonstrated that they were in the including Elizabeth Cady Stanton

54 BBC History Magazine

Women & the civil war

and Susan B Anthony, were lectured

by black activists that in wars Five women of the American Civil War
aftermath it was the negros hour,
and women would have to postpone
their claiming of rights and the QUEEN OF THE CONFEDERATE COURT
assertion of their liberty. With wars
end most men, especially returning MARY BOYKIN CHESNUT was part of the Confederate court in
soldiers, demanded a return to the Richmond, scribbling the breaking news of battles and back-biting
status quo and expected womens among Jefferson Daviss intimate circle. Her memoir, first published
push for equality to ebb. nearly 19 years after her death, is the most widely cited civil war journal
But whatever womens post-war because of its engrossing prose and vivid evocation of the southern
disappointments, we can now white psyche. Chesnut also provided tart critiques of her fellow
identify many more examples of slaveholders. As for her own foibles: she might have recognised them,
varied experiences within the civil but she really couldnt comment.
war era itself from administrators
to volunteers, from authors to
advocates, from divorcing wives to FIRST LADY OF THE UNION
grieving widows, from soldiers to
spies, from plantation mistresses MARY LINCOLN, the southern-born bride of Abraham Lincoln,
forced to undertake their own found herself in a precarious position when her husband blockaded the
manual labours to black southern Confederacy in April 1861. Isolation in the White House, especially after
women who braved reprisals to her son Willies death in 1862, destabilised the First Lady. She devoted
assist Union soldiers. An avalanche herself to her husbands health and hospital charity, but the strain of
of new investigations about womens war took its toll. The couple were happy when the Confederacy finally
wartime experiences deepens our surrendered and their son Robert arrived home. Marys happiness was
understanding of lived experiences. cut short by her husbands assassination on 14 April 1865.

Statues to the fallen

Despite this, the stepdaughters of HEROINE BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Scarlett OHara have had the lions
share of popular cultural attention. HARRIET TUBMAN was an ex-slave who escaped north before
The remembrance of things the war. She became a heroic leader in the Underground Railroad,
imagined has played in to this a network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape. She headed
image, because white southern back south behind enemy lines once Lincoln declared war in April 1861.
women became preoccupied with In the summer of 1863, Tubman engineered a raid up the Combahee
commemoration and statuary in River, smuggling more than 700 runaway slaves to safety and freedom.
post-war America, overwhelming Her battle for a military pension would last for decades, but finally in
the landscape with tributes to dead 1899 Tubmans service and accomplishments gained recognition.
heroes. Nevertheless, for all these acts
of remembrance, revisionist scholars
have suggested Confederate womens ANGEL OF THE BATTLEFIELD
loss of faith may have contributed to
the defeat of secessionists. Whatever CLARA BARTON was a Massachusetts-born educator who
the truth, the battle of interpretations collected medicine and food to send to Union soldiers. She campaigned
will continue with each rising for direct access, and by the second summer of the war she took
generation of civil war scholars. supplies directly to the front, and became known as the Angel of the
In any case, most American Battlefield. After the war, she devoted her energies to locating Union
women were simply relieved the soldiers who had not returned to their families. Through her efforts
war had ended, even if for white more than 20,000 soldiers were cleared from the missing list. She
southerners this meant the collapse went on to found the American Red Cross.
of government and the loss of a way
of life. A return to some semblance
of normality was embraced by the MASQUERADED AS A
majority. And for a first generation CONFEDERATE SOLDIER
of emancipated, formerly enslaved
women, there was the promise of a LORETA JANETA VELASQUEZ defied the conventional path
new birth of freedom, even if it was carved out for her. Ignoring the wishes of her husband, Velasquez
a dream deferred for white women decided to disguise herself as a man to serve in the Confederate army.
as well as for African-Americans. At the battle of Shiloh, she was wounded and the army doctor treating
her discovered she was a woman. Next, she headed to Richmond to
Catherine Clinton is professor of US offer her services as a spy. Her memoir, The Woman in Battle (1876)
history at Queens University Belfast and detailed her struggles on and off the battlefield.
the author of Mrs Lincoln: A Life
(HarperCollins, 2009)

BBC History Magazine 55


Battle of Gettysburg

The battle of
In 1863, Robert E Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia in an invasion of the
north. It was, says Brian Holden Reid, the last chance for Confederate victory.
But the Union Army of the Potomac was waiting in the town of Gettysburg. It
would take over 7,000 fatalities to decide the pivotal battle of the war...

56 BBC History Magazine

Battle of Gettysburg

N THE AFTERNOON forces at the beleaguered Mississippi Harrisburg. The pace of Lees
of Friday, 3 July 1863, city of Vicksburg, he would move advance caused panic, yet as
Robert E Lee, north on 3 June, officially beginning Confederate troops fanned out to
commander of the the Gettysburg campaign. He would subsist off the countryside, the
Confederate Army of Northern cross the Potomac river that traced danger increased that they might
Virginia, rode forward on news that the border between the Union and collide with Federal troops and
his troops had been repulsed just the Confederacy. By invading, he bring on a battle Lee was not best
south of Gettysburg, a Pennsylvania would bring pressure to bear on prepared for.
college town just 80 miles away from the Federal government and turn Their opposition, the Union Army
the nations capital, Washington, DC. the tide of war decisively in the of the Potomac, was commanded by
His behaviour was termed by Confederacys favour. Joseph Hooker, whose confidence
eyewitnesses as sublime, as he had not yet recovered from his
reassured his frightened men: All previous humiliation at the battle of
this will come right in the end: well It is I that have lost this Chancellorsville, Virginia, where he
talk it over afterwards; but in the
meantime all good men must rally. fight, and you must help me was defeated by Lees far smaller
force. He initially suggested going
He was even overheard to say to a
subordinate, all this has been my
out of it Robert E Lee south, as Lee advanced north, in
order to take the city of Richmond,
fault it is I that have lost this fight, which served as the Confederate
and you must help me out of it in the Crossing the Potomac capital. President Lincoln rejoined
best way you can. A few weeks earlier, The Confederate forces vanguard, sharply that his object was Lees army.
Lees ambitious invasion of the north Richard S Ewells Second Corps of Hooker advanced north, shielding
had started so well. the Army of Northern Virginia, Washington, DC. His relations with
After victory at the battle of crossed the Potomac river on the general-in-chief Henry W Halleck
Chancellorsville (15 May 1863), 15 June 1863. They pushed through had deteriorated badly and on 27 June
Lee had decided that, rather than Maryland, entered Pennsylvania and he asked to be relieved. By 3am the
send reinforcements to Confederate even threatened the state capital, following day, George G Meade

Human cost
Gettysburg took the lives of

3,155 Union soldiers and

3,903 Confederate soldiers

BBC History Magazine 57

Battle of Gettysburg

was appointed in his place, Lee assumed that they remained

protesting his inadequacy. It was not south of the Potomac. He intended
the best time to change commanders. to catch individual Union corps
unawares and destroy them
Overtaken by events piecemeal. In the past, Lee had made
Meade proved a skilled tactician, his own luck and exploited events,
but he had to overcome the but to impose his will on the enemy
defensive-mindedness that had, by demanded accurate information.
now, soaked into his army. On his He did not have that in the days
first day in command he received before Gettysburg.
an accurate estimate of the size of Meades army, meanwhile, had Union General Reynolds was killed on 1 July
Lees army 80,000 men. Meade entered Pennsylvania. Meade had when the armies first clashed at Gettysburg
planned to fend off Lees manoeuvres retained an innovation of Hookers
and withdraw to an advantageous by placing almost half his army, the Stuarts return was imminent. An
defensive position, but as the Union First, Third and Eleventh Corps, assault on the Union left and centre
army advanced north, events under the command of his old friend, broke through. Union troops fled
overtook this scheme.Some of John F Reynolds. On 30 June, two back through Gettysburg and
Lees previous triumphs had been brigades of Union cavalry entered streamed up on the high ground
based on the skillful gathering and Gettysburg. Lees army advanced south of the town, leaving behind
utilisation of intelligence. Far north eastwards through the Cashtown 8,800 casualties and General
in enemy country, however, he could Gap, to see what General Meade is Reynoldss corpse on the field. Meade
not rely on the information brought sent forward Major General Winfield
to him. On 25 June he made his Lee suggested to Ewell that Scott Hancock to take command.
position even more challenging by Lee had enjoyed initial success but
despatching General JEB Stuarts best he take the artillery-heavy he knew little of the ground or forces
three brigades on a cavalry raid
around the Union army. Stuart soon
high ground if practicable. in front of him. Over the next two
days, each small win would lure him
found himself cut off from reporting Ewell decided it was not into gambling for higher stakes and
back and he could not return the he rapidly lost his freedom of action.
way he had come because he had after. The orders of the respective Lee suggested to General Ewell
seized 125 wagons and had a long commanders made a collision that he take the artillery-heavy high
vulnerable tail. He was out of contact between their armies very likely. ground if practicable. Ewell, his
for a week, a terrible handicap as Lee men exhausted, decided that it was
groped blindly northwards. The armies clash not a decision that some believe
By 28 June, Lee had only the Fighting began on 1 July, when two changed the eventual outcome of the
haziest idea as to the location of brigades of Confederate General battle. Lee changed his mind twice as
the Army of the Potomac. That Henry Heths division clashed with to whether Ewell should stay put or
evening he received some hard Union cavalry. This sucked larger move behind the Union position,
intelligence when one of General units into the fray. finally deciding in favour of the latter.
Longstreets (Lees subordinate, Two Union corps, the First and the This ensured that a great battle would
whom he referred to as his old war Eleventh, then were defeated by the be fought over this ground.
horse) spies, Henry T Harrison, larger two Confederate corps, the
rode into camp. Harrison reported Second and the Third. Lee had Battlefield terrain
that Union troops lay between South hesitated to bring on a big battle, but The field of Gettysburg was much
Mountain and Frederick, Maryland. at 2.30pm he received word that more open than the scene of some
of Lees earlier triumphs, with
undulating fields and meadows,
and some rugged hills dissected by
ravines cut by small streams.
Seminary Ridge, occupied by Lees
troops, was wooded.
The Union position has been
likened to a fishhook, anchored in a

long twist from Culps Hill along

Cemetery Hill, before swinging south
along the high Cemetery Ridge that
stretches for a mile and a half, until
finally supported by two prominent
conical hills, Little Round Top and
After the battle Big Round Top.
Cemetery Ridge, a strategic The soldiers of both sides that took
location held by Union forces during up position on this ground were, by
Gettysburg, shows signs of the bitter
this date, proud, experienced, resilient
fighting that took place there
and hard-bitten. Union troops had

58 BBC History Magazine

Battle of Gettysburg

Key events in the battle of Gettysburg

The map shows Union and
Confederate positions before the
final encounter. The key events of
the battle were:

1 July, 7.30am5pm
The First and Eleventh Union Corps are
defeated north and west of Gettysburg.
They retreat to high ground to the south

2 July, 121pm
Daniel E Sickles, commanding Union
Third Corps, decides, without telling
Meade, to advance beyond Cemetery
Ridge to occupy the Peach Orchard. This
creates a weak spot in Meades position

2 July, 34 pm
Union forces occupy Little Round Top.
Longstreets troops make progress at
Sickles expense but fail to make a
breakthrough. He therefore cannot move
artillery up on to Cemetery Ridge

3 July, 8-11am
Union troops at Culps Hill drive
Confederates from the breastworks they
had captured the day before

3 July, 1.07pm
162 Confederate guns open a
bombardment on Cemetery Ridge

3 July, 2.30-4 pm
Picketts charge, involving troops from
three other divisions, is thrown forward
towards a central point on Cemetery
Ridge but is repulsed. Stuarts cavalry
also fails to break into the Union rear

4 July, 4pm
Lees retreat begins. He escapes
unscathed by 5 July. Meade follows 24
hours later, his caution permitting Lee to
re-cross the Potomac river on 15 July

been unmoved by their defeat at the position at about 10am. He In the early hours of the morning
Chancellorsville. They did not deserve noticed that the ground beyond, Lees reconnaissance party reported
the ridicule too easily doled out by covered by a peach orchard, was that the Union left flank was exposed.
over-confident Confederates. higher than Cemetery Ridge, and Shortly afterwards, Longstreet argued
General Meade did not arrive to queried Meades orders, even riding the desirability of moving around
take personal command of his Union to headquarters at the Leister House Meades position; he would later
troops until about 2am on 2 July. At to question them personally. Meade, present this as a cogent defensive-
daybreak, he recognised the strength had a benign appearance but a savage offensive plan that would tempt
of his position and hurried up the temper. For once he kept it, and Meade to attack Lee. But without the
Second, Third and Fifth Corps to observed that Sickles could interpret necessary intelligence from Stuart
tighten his grip on it. He planned to his orders so long as they remained where would the army move to?
place the Second Corps on Cemetery within the generals framework. Thus Longstreet did not say. Lee had not
Ridge with the Third to its left encouraged, Sickles ordered his corps rejected his suggestions, but with
anchored on Little Round Top. to advance towards the peach clear intelligence available, Lee
Third Corps, commanded by the orchard without telling Meade, thus decided to attack the Union left.
raffish Daniel E Sickles, arrived on weakening the Union position. Longstreet, as the most

BBC History Magazine 59

Battle of Gettysburg

at 4pm, was not well directed. Hoods General Ewells diversionary

division became distracted along attacks on the Union right had made
Devils Den and into Rose Woods, little impact on Longstreets assault
and was absorbed by the fight for and the pattern would again be
Little Round Top. repeated on 3 July at Culps Hill.
Union troops rushed in to hold Lee decided to focus on the Union
the line. In consolidating their centre, which he calculated had been
ground facing south, a colour-bearer weakened in numbers so as to better
rode up. Colonel, Ill be damned if prop up the flanks.
I dont think we are faced the wrong
way. The Rebs are in the woods Picketts charge
behind us, on the right. The Colonel A tense meeting took place on the
discovered he was correct, as morning of 3 July. Lee, Longstreet
experienced corps commander, Ewells attack on southern Rebels and northern and AP Hill, commander of Third
was chosen to command what Lee the Union army at Yankees were all mixed up, and it was Corps, were in attendance but Ewell
Culps Hill on 3 July,
hoped would be a decisive stroke. difficult to find the front line. and Stuart were not. Longstreet
sketched by artist
Lee is often criticized for what Edwin Forbes on Major General Lafayette McLaws urged Lee to manoeuvre around
many see as a vague plan. His army the battlefield division had more success, driving Ewells right. Lee overruled him and
were insufficiently concentrated for the Unions Third Corps back up stuck to his plan. He was running out
a great battle. When Lee returned Cemetery Ridge. A Third Corps of options.
from a visit to Ewell at about officer looking down Cemetery Ridge The 5,000 Virginians of General
11.30am, he was displeased that evening recounted: The smoke George Picketts division were to be
that Longstreet had made few of their rifles encircled them, the the centrepiece of the attack, however
preparations for the assault. But the bulk of the 13,000 troops came
Longstreet pleaded that he should
wait for Laws brigade, which arrived
Ill be damned if I dont from three divisions of Hills corps.
(Interestingly, few contemporaries
about 30 minutes later. Shortly
afterwards, Stuart arrived to face
think we are faced the wrong unless directly engaged actually
record witnessing Picketts charge.
brusque treatment from Lee; he was way. The Rebs are in the Its fame is a triumph of the Virginian
given instructions to take his troopers writing of Confederate history).
to the northeast of Ewells corps. woods behind us Much of the meeting was taken
up resolving differences between
Taking the high ground flashes lighted up the field upon Longstreet and Hill over the mode
During the mid-afternoon, elements which the shadows were advancing of attack. Lee hoped to aid the
of the Union Fifth Corps occupied and the scene resembled one of those breakthrough by ordering Stuart to
Little Round Top. The concave shape battles which are seen in pictures advance down the Bonaughton Road
of Meades position enabled the where the lines of battle are formed and cause mayhem in the Union rear.
Federals to move and act more with mathematical exactness. Greater unanimity prevailed at a
swiftly than the Confederates. Despite this advance, nothing Union council of war convened by
The concentrated Union position decisive was achieved. Longstreet Meade before midnight. His
covered about two miles, while the failed to get his artillery up onto Little commanders agreed they should
Confederates stretched for six. Yet Round Top or Cemetery Ridge, remain on the defensive for another
even allowing for this disadvantage, which would have made General day. Meade correctly predicted the
Longstreets assault, finally launched Meades position untenable. attack would come from the centre.
Just after 1pm, a Confederate
bombardment of 162 guns opened
up, making remarkably little
contribution to the drama of the
afternoon. Union guns eventually
went silent to conserve ammunition.
At this point the Confederate
infantry emerged through the
woods and began its march up
towards the guns on Cemetery Hill.
This was one of the most dramatic
moments of the entire war. The cry
went up along the Union line:

There they are There comes

the infantry! For all their dress
irregularities, these long lines of
The men they left behind Confederate infantry were perfectly
Confederate dead gathered for burial at aligned as if on parade, with colours
the edge of Rose Woods, photographed a
unfurled, advancing silently. As they
couple of days after the battle
moved into the shallow area between

60 BBC History Magazine

Battle of Gettysburg

46 July, which permitted Lee to

escape despite being trapped by
floodwaters, revealed to President
Lincoln that Meade was not the man
to galvanise the Union war effort.
Nevertheless, Meade had destroyed
the offensive capacity of Lees army,
which never returned to northern
soil again.

The Gettysburg address

The Union victory at Gettysburg
three days of fighting in which the
Confederates consistently attacked
and the Federals defended brought
massive relief in Washington. News
arrived on 4 July and of the fall of
Vicksburg on the Mississippi river on
Follow me Armistead raising his hat to guide his troops during the doomed Confederate charge on 3 July 7 July an equally massive boost to
the Union cause. The north gained
the initiative both in military and
Seminary and Cemetery Ridges, the But there was no good news to be moral terms and the Confederate
Union artillery opened fire, tearing found. Three miles away Stuarts cause lost appeal in the wider world,
great holes in their ranks. weary troopers failed to break a especially in London, where slavery
A considerable gap opened in resolute Union cavalry defence, had already been abolished.
the middle of the Confederates mounted among others by a certain On 19 November, President
formation between Picketts troops George A Custer. Lincoln visited Gettysburg. In his
and Hills men on their left. Picketts celebrated address a mere 272
division had to swerve to the left Disaster for the South words he declared a new birth of
towards its objective: a small copse of Some 28,000 casualties had been freedom, and that a government of
trees in the middle of Hancocks sustained by the Confederates and the people, by the people, for the
Second Corps line. Union fire had a 23,000 by the Union (3,903 people had been safeguarded.
truly deadly effect; Meades troops Confederate dead, 3,155 Union The North gained a great
using solid shot at a distance and dead). But, despite the carnage, the advantage in the war of values, ideas
canister when close up (best at significance of the Souths defeat was and propaganda. The defeat at the
point-blank range). This was not appreciated immediately by the battle of Gettysburg was not the only
supplemented by rifled-musket volleys. cause of the reverse in southern
As Union regiments began to
advance to move around the
A strange and terrible fortunes, but it accelerated the
disintegration of what had appeared
Confederates exposed flanks, a
participant listened above the din of
sound came from thousands to be the all-conquering Army of
Northern Virginia. It took the south
battle. He heard a strange and of human throats like a two decades to discover its symbolic
terrible sound, one that came importance. By the 1890s, it was
from thousands of human throats, vast mournful roar regarded as the turning point, and
yet was not a commingling of shouts the attack on 3 July as the high water
and yells but rather like a vast surviving participants. Many of Lees mark of the Confederacy a
mournful roar. soldiers felt they had not given a fair perspective not realised by those
The commander of the closest showing during these three days and enduring great suffering on the field
Confederate brigade, Lewis hoped that Lee would lead them of battle at the time.
Armistead, placed his hat aloft on north again. Great conflicts like the American
his sword tip to guide those behind. Yet Gettysburg was a disaster for Civil War, fought over large distances
The line, however, weakened as the Confederacy. Lees was a defeat and on an immense scale, are not
they closed on the Union troops. explained by a series of errors in decided in an afternoon. Yet
Armistead fell mortally wounded intelligence, command and tactics Gettysburg, by neutering Lees
among 6,000 Confederate casualties. that prevented him from landing army, was a significant milestone
The Union Second Corps one powerful blow. He and his men on the road to Confederate defeat
commander, Hancock, had been were over-confident and excessively a point that would take another 22
friends with Armistead before the contemptuous of their enemy. months of arduous travel before it
war, and in his dying breath the For his part, Meade committed no was reached.
Confederate entrusted some serious errors, and mounted a
mementos, his watch and spurs, to cohesive defence with adequate Brian Holden Reid is professor of
his Union adversary. The survivors of reserves. But, despite his victory, American history and military institutions,
the Confederate assault streamed long-term glory was not to be his. His Kings College, London, and has written
back to be met by their commander. over-cautious pursuit of Lee, from several books on the American Civil War

BBC History Magazine 61

Generals in command

When conflict tore apart the United States, military leaders who had once
served together had to choose sides according to their consciences.
Terry L Jones outlines the achievements and failings of key commanders

ULYSSES S GRANT (182285) ROBERT E LEE (180770)

Had great success on the battlefield, Great tactical skill combined with
but hated pomp and ceremony compassion and bravery

AN OHIO NATIVE, Grant graduated from West Point Military LEE GRADUATED SECOND in the 1829 West Point class and
Academy in 1843 and was awarded two brevets (honorary earned three brevets during the Mexican War. Before the civil
promotions) for gallantry in the Mexican War, but resigned his war he served as superintendent of West Point, commanded
commission in 1854 to avoid a court martial for drunkenness. the marines that captured the abolitionist John Brown, and
After becoming a colonel of the 21st Illinois when the civil war became lieutenant colonel of the Second US Cavalry. His wife,

began, he was promoted rapidly as he defeated the South at Mary Custis, was Martha Washingtons great-granddaughter.
Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chattanooga. In 1864, Her plantation was confiscated during the civil war and turned
Grant was promoted to general-in-chief and forced Robert into Arlington National Cemetery.
E Lees army to surrender at Appomattox the following year. Although Lee opposed secession, his greatest loyalty was
Grant was, perhaps, the best general of the to his native state of Virginia. He turned
war, but there was nothing in his personal down an offer to command the Union
appearance to suggest greatness. One armies, resigned his commission
man described him as a short, round- after Virginia seceded and was
shouldered man [with] rather a appointed a Confederate
scrubby look. Shy, quiet, humble and general. Taking command of
unassuming, Grant distained pomp the Army of Northern Virginia
and ceremony, and usually wore in 1862, Lee showed great
a privates coat with his generals tactical skill but he also
insignia sewn on the shoulder. demonstrated a single-minded
Although Grant enjoyed great obsession for going on the
battlefield success, he was frequently offensive and sometimes fought
criticised for a seeming indifference when he should have retreated.
to heavy casualties and accused of Lees compassion, skill, and
drunkenness. Lincoln, however, came bravery won him the undying
to trust him because he rarely loyalty of his men.
complained, did not blame Lee defeated a number
others for his mistakes of Union generals
and did not constantly in Virginia, losing
call for reinforcements. only two major
Despite the battles, at
criticism, Grant Antietam and
remained a popular Gettysburg,
figure after the before Grant
civil war and was forced him
elected into a siege at
president in Petersburg
1868 and for the last
1872. year of war.
Generals in command

Highly respected on both sides

BORN IN MODERN-DAY West Virginia, Thomas J Jackson

graduated from West Point in 1846 and was brevetted twice
in the Mexican War, but he later resigned his lieutenants
commission to accept a teaching position at the Virginia
Military Institute. Although a poor teacher, somewhat
eccentric and perhaps a hypochondriac, he was a friendly
man with people he knew well, a loving husband and enjoyed
the company of children. A devout Presbyterian, Jackson
refused to read letters or fight on Sunday if it could be avoided,
attended church faithfully and sponsored a Sunday school
for African-Americans.
Appointed a Confederate general, Jackson earned his
famous nickname Stonewall Jackson at the first battle of
Bull Run when his brigade held the fields high ground like a
stone wall. Jackson rose to the rank of lieutenant general
and became one of Robert E Lees most trusted subordinates.
Jackson performed brilliantly in the Shenandoah Valley
and second Bull Run campaigns, but he was not infallible.
GEORGE B His service in the Seven Days campaign was disappointing
McCLELLAN (182685) and his line was temporarily broken at Fredericksburg
Popular but overly cautious in battle because he failed to place troops at a vulnerable point.
Subordinates also frequently complained of Jacksons
A MEMBER OF a prominent Pennsylvania family, McClellan harsh discipline and secrecy, and more than one general
graduated second in the West Point class of 1846 and earned was arrested for not living up to Jacksons high standards.
two brevets in the Mexican War. He taught at West Point, and Nonetheless, Jacksons men formed a close bond with
served as an observer during the Crimean War. Despite this their chief and even the enemy was awestruck. One officer,
excellent record, he resigned his captains commission in recalling an incident when Jackson rode by some Union
1857 to seek his fortune in the railroad industry. prisoners, wrote: Many of them saluted as he passed and
Appointed a general when the civil war began, McClellan he invariably returned the salute.
took command of the Union army around Washington, DC. Tragically, Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men
He quickly bonded with the Army of the Potomac (the primary in the battle of Chancellorsville and died of pneumonia after
Union force in the eastern theatre of the war) by restoring his left arm was amputated.
discipline and equipping the men for future operations.
Known as Little Mac, McClellan was the armys most
popular commander, but he made enemies among the
Radical Republicans (a loose faction of politicians within
the Republican Party) because he was a conservative
Democrat who opposed freeing the slaves.
On the battlefield, McClellan was slow, overly cautious
and constantly overestimated the enemys numbers. After
advancing to the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, he was
defeated by Robert E Lee in the Seven Days campaign
(JuneJuly 1862) and was temporarily shelved by President
Lincoln. When Lee defeated another Union army in the
second Bull Run campaign, Lincoln restored McClellan
to command, and he did a superb job whipping the men
into shape for the Antietam campaign of late summer 1862.
However, McClellan continued to overestimate the enemys
strength and moved too slowly, even after Lees campaign
plans fortuitously fell into his hands. McClellan defeated
Lee at Antietam, but Lincoln relieved him when he made
no effort to pursue the retreating enemy.
Despite his recurring difficulties with the Lincoln
administration, McClellan remained popular with
many people. The Democratic Party nominated him
for president in 1864, but he suffered a stinging defeat.
After the war, he re-entered politics and was elected
governor of New Jersey.

BBC History Magazine 63

Generals in command


A talent for organisation but
inconsistent on the battlefield

A NATIVE OF North Carolina, Bragg graduated from West

Point in 1837. He was brevetted for gallantry three times
during the Mexican War, but his caustic personality made him
unpopular, and a soldier once tried to assassinate him by
exploding a 12-pound shell under his cot. Bragg resigned his
captains commission in 1856 to become a sugar planter.
Appointed a Confederate general when the civil war
began, Bragg skilfully defended Mobile, Alabama, and
Pensacola, Florida; commanded a corps at the battle of
Shiloh; and was given command of the Army of Tennessee in
June 1862. He quickly demonstrated his talent for discipline
and organisation by whipping the army into shape, but many
soldiers turned against him because he seemed eager to
execute deserters.
Bragg compiled a chequered record with the Army of
Tennessee. During the 1862 Kentucky campaign, he won
some impressive battles but then retreated. At Stones River,
Bragg achieved tactical success on the first day but then
retreated again. His only great victory was at Chickamauga,
but a few months later Ulysses S Grant defeated him at
Chattanooga. Humiliated, Bragg asked to be relieved of army
WILLIAM T SHERMAN command. Jefferson Davis complied but then brought him to
(182091) Richmond where he served ably as the presidents military
Criticised for targeting civilians adviser and general-in-chief.
Bragg excelled in preparing an army to fight, but he did
SHERMAN, KNOWN TO his friends as Cump, was a member not have the decisiveness needed to lead it to victory and his
of a prominent Ohio family. He graduated from West Point irritable temper prevented him from getting along with his
in 1840 and served as an administrative officer in California subordinates. Nonetheless, he was a capable officer whose
before resigning his commission and engaging in a number of failures could sometimes be attributed to subordinates not
failed business ventures. Rejoining the army when the civil following his orders.
war began, he led a brigade at the first battle of Bull Run. He After the war, Bragg worked as a civil engineer and
was then promoted to general and sent to Kentucky. railroad executive. Today, Fort Bragg, North Carolina,
Tall and angular, with a rough face and short red hair and is named after him.
beard, Sherman had a brilliant mind and abundant nervous
energy. This natural nervousness and the stress of command
eventually led to an emotional collapse and he began
predicting imminent disaster. Sherman was relieved of duty,
but a lengthy rest restored his spirits, and he became a
division commander under Ulysses S Grant.
Sherman fought well at Shiloh and was one of Grants
most trusted corps commanders in the Vicksburg campaign.
He then led the Army of the Tennessee at Chattanooga and
took over the Military Division of the Mississippi when Grant
became general-in-chief. Shermans greatest contribution to
the war effort was in the last year of fighting when his Atlanta
campaign, March to the Sea and Carolinas campaign
destroyed southern morale.
Sherman was always popular with his men and they
bestowed upon him the affectionate nickname Uncle Billy.
However, he often appeared to be a coldhearted killer
because of the way he targeted civilians to destroy the
enemys ability to wage war. When Confederate General
John Bell Hood complained of his evicting the citizens of
Atlanta, Georgia, Sherman responded to the citys fathers,

War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.

After the civil war, Sherman replaced Grant as general-in-
chief. In this capacity, he directed the post-war military
actions against American Indians.

64 BBC History Magazine

Generals in command

Argued often with Davis

AN 1829 WEST Point graduate from Virginia, Joe Johnston

saw extensive combat in both the Mexican and Seminole
wars. Resigning his commission in 1861 to become a
Confederate general, he was given command of northern
Virginia but immediately became embroiled in a bitter feud
with Confederate President Jefferson Davis over military
seniority. For the rest of the war, the two men argued over
strategy, logistics and responsibility.
When Johnston was wounded at the battle of Seven Pines
in 1862, he lost command of the Virginia army to Robert E Lee,
but Davis put him in charge of the Department of the West
when he recovered. Johnston proved reluctant to assume
responsibility and failed to help the trapped garrison at
Vicksburg in 1863, even though he had a sizeable army of
his own nearby.
Davis was convinced Johnston was useless as a field
commander, but the general had strong military and political
support, and he was popular with the troops. Davis reluctantly
appointed him as the commander of the Army of Tennessee
after it was defeated at Chattanooga, and Johnston quickly
restored the mens morale by providing fresh supplies,
equipment and furloughs. He then fought skillfully against
William T Sherman in the Atlanta campaign, but his constant
PHILIP H SHERIDAN retreating angered Davis and eventually the president
(183188) replaced him. In February 1865, Davis put Johnston in
A hothead, but adored by his troops command of the Confederate forces in the Carolinas, but
he could do little to stop Sherman and finally surrendered
SHERIDAN GREW UP in Ohio and at West Point became in late April 1865.
known as Little Phil because he was just five feet, five inches After the war, Johnston worked in various business
tall and weighed 120 pounds. Prickly and hot headed, he ventures, was elected to Congress and was appointed a
graduated in the middle of the 1853 class and then fought federal railroad commissioner. He died in 1891 after having
American Indians in Texas. served as an honorary pallbearer at the funerals of both
A year after the civil war began, Sheridan was appointed Grant and Sherman.
colonel of the Second Michigan Cavalry and his excellent
combat record led to his rapid promotion to general. He
played a key role in stopping the Confederate advance at
Stones River; helped General George H Thomas hold the
rebels at bay at Chickamauga; and at Chattanooga his men
advanced without orders and captured Missionary Ridge.
Ulysses S Grant was impressed with Sheridans leadership
and brought him to Virginia in 1864 to command the Army
of the Potomacs cavalry corps.
After serving in the Overland campaign, Sheridan was
sent to the Shenandoah Valley, where he defeated Jubal
A Earlys Confederate army and employed scorched-earth
tactics in what Virginians called the burning. After this
victory, Sheridan rejoined Grant, smashed the Confederate
defences at Petersburg, and led the pursuit of Lee during
the Appomattox campaign.
Northerners credited Sheridan with helping to win the
civil war, but Sheridan never looked like a war hero. Lincoln
described him as a brown, chunky little chap [with] not
enough neck to hang him. Sheridan also had an oddly-
shaped head that reminded one man of a flattened minie ball
(a type of bullet). Despite his looks, soldiers adored their
red-faced, cigar-smoking commander.
After the war, Sheridan commanded the forces fighting
against the American Indians of the Great Plains. Terry L Jones is professor of history at the University of Louisiana at
Monroe. His books include The American Civil War (McGraw-Hill, 2009)

BBC History Magazine 65

The war on the water

The first skirmish between two armour-

plated ships the USS Monitor (left) and CSS
Virginia was an awesome sight, with shot
and shell failing to sink the ironclads

How naval power

shaped the war
Encounters between Confederate and Union ships on inland rivers and in
coastal waters were crucial in determining the outcome of the civil war. Naval
historian Andrew Lambert explores the importance of the nautical conflict

N JANUARY 1861, as tension grew frontiers, was to a large degree determined dominance, having studied the Crimean War.
between South and North, South by sea power. There is no doubt that Union Between 1853 and 1856, sea power enabled
Carolinas Confederate artillery fired naval might shaped both the conduct and Britain and France to invade Russia, destroy
on the steamer Star of the West as she outcome of the conflict. Union sea power the Sevastopol naval base and, through

entered Charleston harbour to resupply the wrecked the Southern economy, split the British threats to destroy St Petersburg by
US Army at Fort Sumter. This salvo was an Confederacy and restored the Union, naval bombardment, end the war.
early indication of the nature of the war to enforcing northern values in the process. In addition, new weapons had been
come, which, despite being waged on a This was no accident: Americans introduced in the Crimean War, such as
single continent between foes with vast land understood the strategic impact of such mines, submarines, rifled artillery (giving

66 BBC History Magazine

The war on the water

greater range and accuracy) and ironclads rivers to divide and crush the Confederacy. in the south. Naturally, the river was a
steam-powered warships protected by It would be maintained by warships and strategic objective for both sides. Early in
iron or steel. converted merchant vessels, and tightened 1862 a Union offensive moved south down
During the American Civil War, there by amphibious operations to secure key the river, spearheaded by new ironclads and
would be no great fleet battles for command coastal locations. The Unions first major quickly bypassing fixed defences, forcing the
of the seas, and only an handful of single- victory came on 7 November 1861, when Confederates to abandon Kentucky. On 24
ship actions. Indeed, the South lost the naval Port Royal Sound, between Charleston and April 1862, Admiral David Farraguts Union
war on day one: at that time it had no Savannah, was seized as a base. fleet, heading north from the rivers delta in
warships, few officers and no men. The The blockade was never perfect. Fast the Gulf of Mexico, steamed past forts
majority of southern naval officers and steamers, mostly British, ran between defending New Orleans with trifling losses.
enlisted men remained loyal to the Union. Bermuda, Nassau and Havana and the The city surrendered, securing the
Having represented America abroad, their Atlantic and Mexican Gulf ports, carrying southern end of the Mississippi for the
loyalties were national rather than local. food, guns, steam engines, brandy, corsets Union. In effect, in doing so, the South lost
Furthermore, the South lacked and anything else southerners wanted, in the war, because it could not win with its
shipbuilding and industrial plant to build exchange for cotton. Relying on speed and economic centre in Union hands.
ironclads and fast cruisers. The Confederate darkness, few were captured. After a naval battle at Memphis on 6 June
secretary of the navy Stephen Mallory 1862, the Union river fleet linked up
created a fleet from nothing, but could
not compete with the far larger Union
General Scotts Anaconda with Farragut, taking control of the
vast Mississippi and splitting the
fleet, while Confederate President
Jefferson Davis ignored the needs of
Plan included a powerful Confederacy in two. Only the habour
town of Vicksburg held out, finally
the navy in favour of the army. attack down the Mississippi surrendering on 4 July 1863 the day
after the battle of Gettysburg shattered
Blockade of the South to cut the Confederacy in half Confederate hopes in the east.
Three months after they attacked Star
of the West, the Confederates launched an By striking from the sea and along major Harnessing the Sea
assault on Fort Sumter itself the first shot rivers (eschewing railways, which were With the direct route to the Souths
that heralded the civil war was fired on 12 easily destroyed by Confederate raiders), capital, Richmond in Virginia, blocked by
April. A week after the loss of Fort Sumter, Union forces carved the Confederacy into Confederate armies, in early 1862 General
President Lincoln ordered a blockade of the isolated fragments. George McClellan shifted the Unions
South, denying the Confederates access to The Mississippi River slices America in Army of the Potomac by sea to the Virginia
foreign arms and equipment, as well as the two, flowing from Minnesota in the far Peninsula. Despite this strategic insight,
opportunity to export cotton. north to the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans McClellans irresolute leadership
General Winfield Scotts Anaconda Plan,
proposed in May 1861, added to this a
powerful attack down the Mississippi River
to cut the Confederacy in half. The Union
would use its superior industrial and
manpower resources to impose the
blockade, exploiting the many navigable

Left: Stephen Mallory, the Confederate secretary of the navy, shaped the Souths naval force
Above: Sleek and fast, a British steamer runs the blockade off Fort Monroe, Virginia,
risking attack from Union forces in order to trade with the South

BBC History Magazine 67

The war on the water

wasted the opportunity to seize the more than 600 vessels, it remained a limited mines clicking, the admiral, from his
Confederate capital. force. There were fewer than 30 ironclads vantage point in the lower rigging, shouted
The Unions campaign was threatened by capable of engaging their Confederate to Captain Drayton: Damn the torpedoes,
the large Confederate ironclad CSS forts and counterparts. full speed ahead! No more mines exploded.
(Confederate States ship) Virginia, which Many existing warships were too big for Farragut captured the ironclad CSS
sank two Union sailing warships on 8 March the shallow Confederate coast, and converted Tennessee and sealed the harbour, closing
and fought the USS (Union States ship) merchant ships had limited fighting power. the Gulf Coast to blockade runners.
Monitor the following day. Consequently the North reserved its The final amphibious operation of the
The first battle between ironclads lasted ironclads for specific offensives. These war was the capture of the Confederate Fort
four hours. The vessels hammered away at included a naval attack on Charleston, the Fisher, which defended the sea approaches
point-blank range, firing 9- and 11-inch heart of the Confederacy, on 7 April 1863. to Wilmington, North Carolina, the last
shot and shell that could sink wooden ships This skirmish involved most Union sea-going blockade-runner port. A month after a
with just one or two hits yet, behind bungled attempt in mid-December
their armour plate, the crews were 1864, 60 warships were assembled to
concussed but undefeated. Both ships
The vessels hammered bombard Confederate defences while
retired, dented and shaken. The
Monitor, a novel design with a single
away at point-blank range, marines and soldiers stormed the fort.
Without supplies from Wilmington,
revolving turret mounting two heavy firing shot and shell that the Confederacy could not keep
guns, became an emblem of Union troops in the field.
sea power and subsequently lent its could sink wooden ships
name to all coastal Union ironclads. Confederates fight back
The resultant standoff sustained the ironclads, but with only two heavy guns the In an attempt to divert Union ships from
blockade but prevented McClellans army monitors could not destroy the numerous the blockade and coastal offensives, the
from using the James river, the direct route harbour defence batteries. Confederacy sent a few cruisers to destroy
to Richmond. Two years later, Grant would The next major offensive, Farraguts northern commerce. However, their impact
use the same river system to outflank attack on Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864, was marginal and eventually the raiders
Confederate defences, marching round augmented ironclads with wooden were hunted down.
Richmond from river to river. His strategy steamers. This vital Southern harbour was The iconic CSS Alabama, which had
reflected hard-won experience in the west, defended by batteries, mines, and an enjoyed a stunning career ranging from
at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and excellent ironclad. Despite losing one monitor to Britain to the Indian Ocean and South
relations between army and navy. mines Farragut pressed on. As the crew of Pacific, was pursued and cornered at
Though the North had a near monopoly his flagship, the wooden steam sloop USS Cherbourg, France, by the ironclad USS
on naval power, ending the war with Hartford, could hear the fuses of the moored Kearsarge. The CSS Alabama was sunk in a

Rear Admiral David Farragut (right) and Captain Percival Drayton aboard the USS Hartford, which fought at the battles of New Orleans, Vicksburg and Mobile Bay

68 BBC History Magazine

The war on the water

Battle of Mobile Bay by Louis Prang. This engagement on 5 August 1864 saw David Farraguts fleet run the gauntlet of Confederate mines to secure victory

battle that lasted a little more than an hour By 1863, the Confederacy had developed
on 19 June 1864. a co-ordinated coastal defence strategy
The Confederate navy could not win the combining earthwork batteries, ironclad
war at sea, but worked with the army to keep warships, fixed barriers and mines to
the Union out of the harbours and rivers of control access to key rivers such as the
the South. The South had inherited a system James, and to keep open the vital ports for
of massive coastal forts, including Fort blockade runners.
Sumter, but these were rendered obsolete by However, this strategy forced the
rifled artillery firing explosive shells. The Confederates to spread their resources,
loss of New Orleans demonstrated that old without anywhere being strong enough to
forts had to be reinforced and supported by take the initiative. In contrast, the Union
new weapons. shifted resources from theatre to theatre,
The Unions fast-moving steam warships massing ships and troops at each decisive
were countered by moored submarine point and overwhelming the Confederates. The crew of USS Kearsarge off Cherbourg, France, in
mines, first used by the Russians in 1854. June 1864, the month that vessel sank CSS Alabama
Detonated by contact or by electric signal, Overwhelming odds
these had to be protected by shore batteries Despite limited manpower and resources, the
and local defence ironclads to prevent Confederate navy restricted Union access to from outside support, broke the export-
minesweeping. Confederate mines sank the interior of the south for three years. This dominated southern economy, and ensured
dozens of Union warships indeed, more was critical, because every successful civil that the North could import key war
than any other weapon. In March 1865 war offensive relied on river- or sea-based materials. Sea and river logistics sustained
alone, three ships were sunk on one river logistics (railroads had limited capacity, were every successful major Union offensive.
in Alabama. vulnerable to raids and slow to build). By These lessons were not lost on one man
The Confederates also developed the holding the water frontiers, the Souths navy who served afloat at this time, Captain
torpedo a mine on a long spar, attached to a bought the new nation time to consolidate Alfred T Mahan of the US Navy. His theory,
small steamer. This style of torpedo was also but, like the Confederacy itself, it could not that countries with dominant naval power
used in the first successful submarine attack in resist overwhelming odds. Even so, as the have greater worldwide impact, has shaped
history. On 17 February 1864, the man- Confederacy crumbled, its navy continued the strategic thought of navies across the
powered H L Hunley rammed its spar torpedo fighting. Confederate midshipmen escorted world ever since.
into the Union sloop-of-war Housatonic off President Jefferson Davis and his gold
Charleston. The Union ship sank, though reserves as they fled west. Andrew Lambert is Laughton Professor of Naval
most of the crew survived. H L Hunley For all the battles and bloodshed on land, History in the Department of War Studies at
subsequently went down with all hands. sea power settled the war. It cut the South off Kings College, London

BBC History Magazine 69

The story of the war

With fighting concentrated in the southern states, the Union army waged
all-out war, aimed at destroying the Confederacys morale and crushing its
capacity to wage war. As the conflict entered its final phase and the South put
up determined opposition, both sides suffered huge losses

Mob violence Colonel Henry OBrien, pictured being dragged along the ground, was captured, tortured to death and mutilated by rioters

23 New York City draft riots, 1863

NORTHERNERS ON THE home front workers, most of them poor Irish hundred. Order was restored by
may have been far from the sound immigrants, rampaged through troops who marched north after the
of gunfire, but they still felt the the city in a howl of rage against Battle of Gettysburg.
impact of conflict. Few northerners attempts to implement the draft. In retrospect, the riots were
opposed the war at the outset but, They targeted the visible property a watershed. In mainstream
by 1862, two issues emancipation of the rich and the offices of magazines such as Harpers,
and conscription aroused fierce Lincoln-supporting newspapers. images of white men rioting to avoid
opposition. To many Democrats They also launched indiscriminate fighting for the North in New York
Lincoln was a tyrant, crushing the attacks on the black population of were deliberately contrasted with

freedoms of Americans by pressing the city, lynching them and burning black Union soldiers launching a
them into an abolitionist crusade. an orphan asylum. The rioters heroic failed assault on Fort
The most dramatic incident targets reflected their perception Wagner near Charleston.
of violent discontent took place in of the Republicans destroying the The old race-based conception
New York City on 1316 July 1863. white mans republic as they had of citizenship, to which many
In some of the worst rioting in known it. The total death toll is northerners still clung, had never
American history, thousands of unknown but was probably over a faced such a severe challenge.

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The story of the war

24 Gettysburg address Historic speech

Lincolns address at
THE MOST FAMOUS of Lincolns that the nation mattered not as an Gettysburg was brief yet
succinct. His words are
speeches was a two-minute end in itself, but as an embodiment
carved on the interior of
address to dedicate the military of the ideals of equality and liberty. the Lincoln Memorial
cemetery at Gettysburg on Echoing in secular language
19 November 1863. Lincoln was the Christian idea of a trial of faith,
not even the main speaker he Lincoln went on to claim the civil
wound up proceedings after a war was a test of whether that
two-hour oration from Edward nation or any nation so conceived
Everett. But its Lincolns words and so dedicated can long endure.
that endure: Four score and seven In little under 300 words, he went
years ago, our fathers brought forth on to explain why the struggle and
on this continent a new nation, the sacrifice had a dignity
conceived in liberty and dedicated and a purpose of universal and
to the proposition that all men are transcendent significance: That
created equal. The effect of this this nation under God shall have
was to date the origins of the a new birth of freedom, and that
republic to the Declaration of government of the people, by the
Independence of 1776, with its people, for the people shall not
grand preamble authored by perish from the earth.
Jefferson and appealing to the Lincolns eloquence was noted
universal ideal of equality, rather at the time, but the reputation of
than the more prosaic Federal his Gettysburg address has grown
Constitution of 1787. Lincoln was over the years, as Americans have
implying that the Constitution sought to find an uplifting meaning
merely gave form to the nation, and in the slaughter of the war.

Grants spring
campaign, 1864
command of all Union armies in
early 1864 and adopted a harsh
strategy designed to destroy the
Confederacys capacity to wage
war. The spring campaign of 1864
differed from those of the previous
three years in two ways. Firstly,
Union forces now had an even
greater advantage of numbers in
most confrontations. In addition,
rather than retreating after a
setback, Grant ordered his men
forward. Experienced soldiers used
to long periods in camp followed by
occasional terrifying battles now
faced what seemed like continuous
marching and fighting.
In the battle of the Wilderness, Brutal war The battle of the Wilderness was the first engagement in the blood-soaked Overland Campaign
which took place from 57 May near
the site of Lees Chancellorsville of fighting, the Union army suffered horrendous, but proportionally
victory in Virginia, Union forces more than 17,000 casualties and the less than the South suffered. Grant,
failed to dislodge Lee from his Confederates around 11,000. dubbed Butcher Grant by some in
position. Sparks from the muzzles At the battle of the Wilderness the north, had made the grim
of thousands of rifles set the woods and in the bloody engagements of calculation that his Union army
on fire and thousands of wounded the following three months, the could withstand its losses more
men burned to death. In two days losses on the Union side were easily than the Confederacy.

BBC History Magazine 71

The story of the war

No retreat
General Ulysses S Grant
(left), with Lieutenant
Colonel Theodore S Bowers
and General John Rawlins
(right) at Cold Harbor

26 The battles of Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, 1864

TIME AND AGAIN as Grant attacked around the bloody angle, a movement to try to get between
through rural Virginia, Lee moved U-shaped line of Confederate Lee and Richmond. Again, Lee
his army quickly before establishing trenches that, by the end of the day, anticipated the move. On 3 June,
powerful defensive lines. The action was filled with a mixture of blood, the Army of the Potomac was
moved in an arc east and south as mud and corpses. Spotsylvania was hurled against well-entrenched
Grant tried to get through Lees essentially yet another defeat for Confederate fortifications at Cold
defences and Lee manoeuvred to the North. Grant had attempted to Harbor. More than any other civil
keep his heavily out-numbered and seize an important crossroads, Lee war conflict, Cold Harbor was a
out-gunned army between had beaten him to it and had then harbinger of the horrific first day

Richmond and Union forces. At successfully, albeit bloodily, held of the battle of the Somme. Most
Spotsylvania Court House on 12 May off the Unions assault. of the 7,000 Union soldiers who fell
1864, the South repulsed the North But Grant refused to treat it that day did so in less than an hour,
in a particularly vicious battle. Both as a defeat. Instead, he attempted as wave after wave of attacking
sides fought intensely, especially another large-scale flanking troops were cut down.

72 BBC History Magazine

The story of the war

27The siege of Petersburg,

THE ARMY OF the Potomac moved numerous failed assaults in June,
south from Cold Harbor and crossed July and August 1864, the Union
the James River in another attempt army bedded in for a siege of
to force Lee out from his trenches by Petersburg, extending a line of
flanking his army and seizing the key trenches south and west around the
railroad junction at Petersburg, city. Romantic notions of valour
Virginia, just south of Richmond. were tested against the ever-
Once again, before an assault took present danger of being shot by
place, Lee realised what was snipers and constant artillery
happening and marched his army to bombardment. Reflecting that
thinly defended Petersburg with reality, troops built bomb-proof
astonishing speed. Thousands of shelters and zigzag trenches. As
Union soldiers fell in futile efforts to one Ohio soldier put it, The spade
dislodge the rebels from their is more powerful than the cannon.
earthwork entrenchments. But battlefield defences could
For the third year in a row, a Union aid attackers too, since they
army that set out in the spring with enabled forces to be pushed close
high hopes of crushing Confederate to the enemy lines, from where an
resistance in Virginia appeared by overwhelming raid could be
mid-summer to have stalled. Lee still launched. Nevertheless, it wasnt
had fewer troops, but Grant had lost until 2 April 1865 that Petersburg
more men 64,000 casualties in two surrendered, on the same day the Grim harbinger A southern soldier lies dead at Petersburg
months and morale sank. After Confederates evacuated Richmond. in a scene that calls to mind the horrors that would follow in 191418

28 The fall of Atlanta and Shermans March

WHILE GRANT WAS entrenching on 2 September 1864. Under previous October and November.
outside Petersburg, Union forces Grants command, Sherman had Since then, Sherman had been
under the command of General helped to rout the Confederate pushing further into the
William T Sherman made a Army of Tennessee under General Confederate heartland.
momentous breakthrough at Braxton Bragg, in the Chattanooga After Atlanta fell, his army
Atlanta, which fell to Union forces campaign which took place in the embarked on a march to Savannah
on the Georgia coast and from
there, in the new year of 1865,
turned north into South Carolina.
This march was in line with Grants
strategic plan to move on all fronts
simultaneously, thus stretching
the Souths limited resources. Its
purpose was to destroy not only the
crops, factories and railroads that
sustained the Confederate war
effort, but also to break the will of
the southern people to keep on
fighting with a demonstration of the
military supremacy of the North.
Sherman was blunt: We cannot
change the hearts of those people
of the South, he wrote, but we
can make war so terrible [and]
make them so sick of war that
generations would pass away
before they would again appeal to
it. Sherman proposed to cut loose
from his supply lines and move
through Georgia smashing things
Scene of destruction Shermans troops demolished towns, farms and railways on their March to the Sea to the sea.

BBC History Magazine 73

The story of the war

29 A holy war?
THE AMERICAN CIVIL War took infidels. Confederate suffering was
place in a highly religious society, evidence that God had singled them
where both sides interpreted out as a specially chosen people. On
victory and defeat in terms of Gods the other side, many northerners
pleasure or displeasure. came to believe that Gods purpose
This religiosity was an essential in creating such suffering must be
component in the capacity of both as a punishment for slavery. In the
sides to endure horrendous losses. great abolitionist anthem, The
Clergymen told their congregations Battle Hymn of the Republic, Christ
that war was a test of faith. And if it is seen in the watch-fires of a
was a chastisement for sin, it was hundred circling camps and in the
also an opportunity for national burnished rows of steel of the
redemption and purification. soldiers bayonets. The Union
Secular nationalist ideas about the army was the army of the Lord.
sacrifice of war marking a coming In his second inaugural address,
of age for the American republic Lincoln abjured any triumphalism
or the creation of the Confederate and instead spoke of this terrible
nation were reinforced by the war as judgment on both sides for
religious notion of soil made sacred the offence of American slavery.
by a baptism of fraternal blood. Perhaps, he speculated, only when
For many Confederates, faith every drop of blood drawn with the
was the basis of their nationalism. lash shall be paid by another drawn Atonement Lincoln believed that emancipation was Gods
The Yankees were imagined to be with the sword would the war end. wish, as was the fight to free all slaves in the United States of America

30 The 1864 election

NO ONE OF prominence ever suggested suspending
elections during the war: after all, northerners claimed
to be fighting for free government. But at the same
time, organised opposition to the administration was
seen by Lincolns supporters as tantamount to treason.
In 1864, Lincoln ran for re-election against former
general George B McClellan, whose Democratic
supporters were united in opposition to emancipation
but divided over whether to continue the war. For
Republicans, the election was a test of loyalty to the
national cause. For four summers the loyal North
has been firing bullets at the rebellion, ran a typical
editorial. The time has now come to fire ballots.
Lincoln gained 55 per cent of the popular vote in the
November election. This was a convincing if hardly
overwhelming endorsement. The strength of the
Democratic vote, even in the face of a campaign
branding support for McClellan as a vote for the rebels,
was a measure of northerners discontent over the
transformations the conflict had brought about.
But the victory was enough. It was a ratification
of the policy of war until the South surrendered and
a rejection of any alternative path of negotiations.
Whats more, Lincoln had been elected on a platform
that committed him to support the proposed Thirteenth
Amendment ending slavery. It was the first time that

a major party had run with what amounted to an

abolitionist platform. Lincoln used the political
capital from his victory to push Congress to pass the
amendment before the war came to an end, thus
clarifying the legal status of freed slaves and avoiding
Elected A campaign banner for the 1864 Republican presidential candidate, shows what would have been the legal challenges to the
Abraham Lincoln, and his running mate, Andrew Johnson, Tennessees military governor validity of the Emancipation Proclamation.

74 BBC History Magazine

The story of the war

31 Southern
at Appomattox,
Virginia, 1865
AFTER ONE FINAL fling at the
Union trenches outside Petersburg,
Lees men retreated from one line
of trenches to the next and escaped
west across the Appomattox river.
On 2 April, in anticipation of the fall
of Petersburg, the Confederate
government abandoned Richmond,
setting its offices on fire, loading its
treasury and archives into railroad
cars and fleeing west. The following
day the Confederate capital was in
Union hands.
The half-starved remnants of the
Army of Northern Virginia, now
grossly outnumbered by the Army Farewell to arms A depiction of Grant accepting Lees surrender. From 1869, Grant served as US president
of the Potomac, were chased into
the remote south-west corner of few minutes the two generals as did several other Confederate
Virginia. On 8 April, Union cavalry exchanged pleasantries. Then forces. Not until 2 June in Texas
overtook Lees army and captured Lee brought them to the business did General Edmund Kirby-Smith
three trainloads of desperately at hand. Grant wrote out the formally surrender the last of the
needed rations at Appomattox surrender terms and Lee signed major Confederate forces, but in
station. Lee and his men had finally them. The two generals shook reality Appomattox was the end. It
come to the end of the road. hands. Most Americans shared the marked not just the defeat of the
Grant and Lee met in the drawing assumption that the surrender of Souths four-year experiment in
room of a private home in the Lees army signalled the effective independence, but of freedom
village of Appomattox Court House end of the war, even though and republican government as
on the afternoon of 9 April. For a Jefferson Davis remained at large, they had understood it.

32 Lincolns assassination, 1865

ON THE EVENING of 14 April 1865, kidnap Lincoln, bind and gag him,
Good Friday, President Lincoln but after the fall of Richmond it
and his wife Mary went to Fords was decided to assassinate the
Theatre a few blocks from the president instead.
White House to attend a benefit Booth made his move at a quiet
performance of a popular British moment in the play. He fired a bullet
comedy, Our American Cousin, into Lincolns head at close range,
raising money for the plays then leapt from the box onto the
producer, who also performed in stage. Before the audience grasped
the show. what they had witnessed, Booth
Well-known actor John Wilkes fled, only to die when Federal
Booth, scion of a famous family of troops caught up with him.
Shakespearean actors, entered the Lincoln did not die instantly. Killing shot president drew his last breath, at
theatre by the stage door and made He was carried across the road to After the 7.22am on 15 April. Edwin Stanton
his way to the corridor outside the a room in a boarding house where assassination, John broke the silence with the words,
Wilkes Booth was
presidential box. A man of strong he lay until the early hours of the hunted down and
Now he belongs to the ages.
Confederate sympathies, Booth had next morning, never regaining shot, in a blazing Lincolns death allowed
cast himself in the role of avenging consciousness. With Mary barn in Virginia northerners to weep for all their
angel. Together with a coterie of convulsed with grief and news of dead. The slogans sewn on flags
peculiar friends, several of whom the assassination spreading rapidly and black banners, The memory
appear to have been mentally ill, by telegraph, Lincolns cabinet of the just is blessed, ensured that
Booth had hatched a vainglorious colleagues gathered. They were Lincoln stood in for many other
plot. The plan was originally to present at his bedside when the private losses.

BBC History Magazine 75

Shermans March

When General Sherman marched 62,000 Union troops through the south in
1864, he left a 50-mile-wide path of destruction, says Anne Sarah Rubin,
destroying the Confederacys morale and ability to wage war

HEN THE Claiborne watched as a lost everything to eat the house
YANKEES came, Yankee came back and asked for contained Curses and oaths were
Claiborne Moss directions and then Mosss master uttered on all sides it was truly
was not even eight pointed the way with his left hand fearful. The Union soldiers tried to
years old. He had been born a slave on and while the fellow was looking that set the house on fire, ransacked
Archie Duggins plantation near way, he drug him off his horse and trunks and bureaus, and stole
Sandersville, Georgia, and there he cut his throat valuables. Collier and her family had
watched as blue-coated Union In North Carolina, Elizabeth to leave their home and become
soldiers swept through on what has Collier sat helplessly as a party of refugees, with little more than the
become famous as Shermans March. most desperate fellows broke down clothes on their backs.
The soldiers stole everything that the back door of her home in General Shermans March through
they could lay their hands on all the Everettsville, and then commenced Georgia and Carolina, bringing the war
gold and silver that was in the house, their sacking of the house and did directly to the civilians of the south,
and everything they could carry. not cease until they had taken took place from autumn 1864 to late

Shermans troops wreak

destruction on a Georgia
plantation in 1864
Shermans March

spring 1865. A few years later, Union Field Orders No. 120 ordered his men
General EF Noyes addressed a reunion to forage liberally on the country, Scorched earth morality
of veterans, nostalgically recalling that and to destroy mills, houses, Engraving of the burning
in this rollicking picnic expedition cotton-gins, etc, but within limits. of McPhersonville,
there was just enough of fighting for The foraging parties were supposed South Carolina, during
variety, enough of hardship to give zest to be regularised and under the Shermans March, 1865
to the repose which followed it, and control of discreet officers; soldiers
enough of ludicrous adventure to were not supposed to enter homes;
make its memory a constant source should the army be left unmolested,
of gratification. southern property was also supposed
An enslaved child; a southern to be left alone.
white woman; a Union veteran. Each Sherman also ordered that when
experienced Shermans March, each livestock was being seized, his men
lived to tell the tale, but their stories ought to discriminate between the
differ profoundly. What they share, rich, who are usually hostile, and the
however, is the experience of close poor and industrious, usually neutral
contact between soldiers and civilians, or friendly.
an intimate warfare whose contours As for African-Americans,
were directed from the top down. Sherman was willing to permit THE MORALITY AND legality of Shermans March,
commanders to put able-bodied men with its targeting of civilian infrastructure and
Capture of Atlanta who could be of service into supplies, have been debated since it first set off. Today
General Shermans Union Army had pioneer corps, but urged them to be debate rages on civil war blogs and message boards
captured the southern city of Atlanta mindful of their limited supplies. In on topics such as was Sherman a war criminal?
in early September 1864. Soon after effect, he was telling his men to leave There are accusations that he was the originator of
that he decided to evacuate the citys the newly-freed women and children total war. In the 1980s, James Reston Jr argued that
civilian population. He wanted the behind. Most of these rules were one could connect Shermans March, via the direct
city, an important railway hub, to be honoured more in the breach than in targeting of civilians in the Second World War, to
a purely military base he didnt reality, but their very existence gave Vietnam-era atrocities including the My Lai massacre.
want to deal with feeding or Sherman (and to an arguably lesser Sherman is still described as a merchant of terror
protecting civilians, or guarding his extent his men) a degree of moral who cared nothing for the people whose homes and
troops against guerrillas and spies. cover. They certainly allowed for a livelihoods he or his men destroyed.
When the mayor of Atlanta certain elasticity harsher treatment The reality of this is more complicated. Sherman
protested, Sherman simply explained of some people in some places, was not the first Union general to use hard war
that war is cruelty and you cannot leniency elsewhere. tactics against southern civilians but he did so on a
refine it. Some 1,600 whites and much larger, more public and arguably more
blacks were forced out of the city, Killing and looting unabashed scale. While there were no international
onto the roads of Georgia. The marchers left Atlanta on laws of war in 1864, the Union army was governed by
Sherman did not want to 15 November, travelling about its own guidelines, known as the Lieber Code, which
permanently occupy Atlanta. He 10 miles a day a leisurely pace for allowed for hostile civilians to be subjected to the
received permission to break free experienced veterans. They looted hardships of the war. At the same time, however, the
from his supply lines and march homes and churches, burned barns code also prohibited wanton violence and
across Georgia to the coast to link up and cotton gins. They stole food, unauthorised destruction. Sherman believed he was
with the Union Navy. To that end, horses, silver and jewellery. and killed operating within the laws of war and parameters of
Sherman divided his 62,000-man livestock and the dogs that had once so-called civilised behaviour. He never apologised
army into two wings, each been used to track runaway slaves. for the March and, indeed, took pride in its role in
comprising two Corps: the Fifteenth William McCullough of Jones bringing the war to a close.
and Seventeenth in the Right Wing, County remembered Union As the 19th century became the 20th and as wars
the Fourteenth and Twentieth in the of increasing deadliness and destructive power
Left Wing. Almost 5,000 cavalrymen broke out around the globe, the March seemed to
under Judson Kilpatrick would weave reappear again and again. Often, the analogy was
back and forth. Thus Shermans strained, but it revealed much about the common
March actually proceeded in four understanding of the March, or of a simplified
columns, covering a distance of as version of it. German atrocities in Belgium in the
many as 50 miles from edge to edge. First World War were compared to the March, as
The March didnt proceed like a part of a debate over American neutrality in 1915.
lawnmower, cutting down everything Perhaps because increasing American involvement
in its path, but more like a reaper, in Vietnam coincided with the centennial of the

destroying some areas and leaving American Civil War, the analogies between
others untouched. Shermans March and Vietnam came thick and fast
Before setting out, Sherman tried from the 1960s to 1980s. Sherman is often invoked in
to set some ground rules. His Special arguments about American tactics in Iraq and
Afghanistan, sometimes approvingly, sometimes
General William Sherman, by not. The legacy of Shermans March continues.
19th-century engraver JC Buttre
Shermans March

SHERMANS MARCH The Union army takes war to the south, 1864/65

2 3

1 15 November 1864 5 22 December 1864 8 26 April 1865

William T Sherman and his 62,000-man army, Sherman and his army march into the city of Johnston surrenders to Sherman at the
split into two wings, march out of Atlanta Savannah, concluding the first phase of their Bennett Place, a farmhouse near Durham,
heading for Savannah and the sea. campaign to take war to the south. North Carolina. It is the largest surrender of
the civil war.
2 23 November 1864 21 January 1865
The Left Wing of Shermans forces takes Sherman and his men leave Savannah for 24 May 1865
Milledgeville, then capital of Georgia the first South Carolina, determined to make the state Shermans men march in the Grand Review in
of three state capitals they will take on their pay for secession and for the firing on Fort Washington, DC, accompanied by free blacks
march through southern heartlands. Sumter that had sparked the war in 1861. and some of the spoils of war, including cows
and mules taken along the way.
3 27 November 1864 6 17 February 1865
Soldiers find the abandoned remains of Camp The city of Columbia, South Carolina, is
Lawton, a Confederate prison, and the graves engulfed in fire, sparking off a debate about
of hundreds of Union soldiers. They vent their whether it was set by Shermans men or
anger on the town of Millen. retreating Confederates.

4 9 December 1864 7 19-21 March 1865

In an act of brutal cruelty, African-Americans Shermans men face Confederates under
following in the wake of Shermans army are General Joseph Johnston at the battle of
left to drown or be captured by Confederates Bentonville, North Carolina, the last battle Between towns, Shermans men walked at the
at Ebenezer Creek. of the campaign. relatively gentle pace of 10 miles a day

soldiers burning his home. He at Griswoldville, on 22 November, statehouse, symbolically voting

recalled that they left his family with where they realised their opponents Georgia back into the Union.
only the clothes we had on; no food were young boys and old men. On Over the following week, troops
and no place to sleep for days we the next day soldiers of the Left Wing converged on the small town of
ate our corn left on the ground by the took Milledgeville, Georgias capital. Millen in the hopes of liberating a
Yankees horses. Amid their flurry of destruction, Confederate prison. Camp Lawton
Union soldiers faced few obstacles some regiments took time out to had been hastily built to hold Union
and fought just one battle in Georgia hold a mock legislative session in the prisoners of war and was just as

78 BBC History Magazine

Shermans March

hastily evacuated in advance of the Shermans men destroyed many of the

March. When Shermans men found souths railroads, cutting off Confederate
the abandoned camp, along with 700 supplies and cutting down their hopes
graves, they vented their anger in town,
torching the railroad depot and hotel.
The soldiers reached the outskirts
of Savannah on 10 December and
found it defended by 10,000
Confederates. Sherman bypassed it
temporarily, captured Fort McAllister
and reopened his communication
lines. Savannah surrendered rather
than be subjected to bombardment.
On 22 December, General Sherman
telegraphed President Lincoln: I beg
to present you, as a Christmas gift,
the city of Savannah with 150 heavy
guns and plenty of ammunition, and
also about 25,000 bales of cotton.

A trail of smoke
The journey from Atlanta to
Savannah is known as Shermans Shermans troops stole food a state to which they were more
March to the Sea. But after spending favourably disposed. Men who
January in Savannah, Sherman and and horses and killed the claimed to have taken the gloves off
his men continued, moving out of in South Carolina put them back on,
the city and into South Carolina. This
dogs that had been used to in the hopes of not antagonising
phase of the March would differ from track runaway slaves Unionists. They crossed the state,
the earlier one in two significant fighting Confederates at Averasboro
ways. It would be much harder going, and Bentonville, stopping in
through dense swamps. It would also railroad, were left in ruins during the Fayetteville and Goldsboro. The
be even more destructive. first two weeks of February. In March ended with the surrender of
Sherman recalled, somewhat Barnwell, cavalrymen held a party Joseph Johnstons Confederate army
disingenuously, that somehow our with newly-freed slaves in the hotel as on 26 April 1865 at Bennett Place,
men had got the idea that South the town burned, quipping that the a farmhouse near Durham.
Carolina was the cause of all our town should be called Burnwell.
troubles and therefore on them They arrived in the state capital of The end of the road
should fall the scourge of war in its Columbia on 17 February 1865. The March destroyed Southern
worst form and I would not Sherman and his men have long been morale and the Confederacys ability
restrain the army lest its vigor and charged with burning the city, but to wage war. It also freed many
energy should be impaired.And so some conflicting evidence suggests thousands of African-Americans
the men moved on, inexorably, that it was Confederates torching from the shackles of slavery, even
leaving a trail of smoke and rubble cotton that sparked the conflagration. though Sherman himself was not an
behind them. Several towns in South From Columbia, Union troops advocate for black equality. In
Carolina, particularly those along the headed north into North Carolina, addition, Sherman supported a soft
peace, one with generous terms. In
the years after the war he supported
the idea of white southerners
regaining political control, often at
the expense of African-Americans.
It is almost impossible to calculate
how much damage the March caused.
Some estimates put the cost at about
$100 million. While it may be
difficult to count the human and
monetary cost, the scope and drama
of Shermans March has granted it a
symbolic power that continues to
fascinate students of the civil war.

Anne Sarah Rubin is associate professor

at the University of Maryland. Her book,
Through the Heart of Dixie: Shermans
Union forces take ammunition from the captured Fort McAllister before advancing to Savannah March and America, comes out in 2014

BBC History Magazine 79

Why the South lost

In the end, the Confederate army was simply overwhelmed by larger forces,
claimed General Lee. But thats not the whole story, as Adam IP Smith argues

ITH HIS CONFEDERATE [the Federates] may overrun our frontier states institution that prompted secession: slavery.
army outnumbered and and plunder our coast, but, as for conquering Enslaved people fled to join the Union army,
exhausted, General Robert us, the thing is an impossibility History depriving the South of labour and
E Lee finally surrendered offers no instance of a people as numerous as strengthening the North by more than
to General Grant. Four years of bitter civil we are, inhabiting a country so extensive as 100,000 soldiers. Even so, slavery was not in
war came to an end in the village of ours, being subjected if true to ourselves. itself the cause of defeat. In the end, slavery
Appomattox, Virginia, on 9 April 1865. Lee If Randolph was right (and Lee was was destroyed because the North won,
offered a succinct explanation for why the wrong), then the causes of Confederate rather than the other way around.
South had lost: The Army of Northern defeat were internal rather than external. If weaknesses in southern society dont
Virginia has been compelled to yield to One set of possible internal explanations in themselves explain Confederate defeat,
overwhelming numbers and resources. focuses on political divisions. According to does that return us to Lees explanation at
In the years after the civil war, white this view, the Confederacy was hindered Appomattox? In a sense it does, but with
southerners followed Lees cue, telling an because its devotion to decentralised a crucial caveat: so long as the North
emotionally powerful story of a heroic and government, endless checks on executive remained determined to crush the
noble struggle against overwhelming odds. power and obsession with individual liberty rebellion by force, it was always likely that
If Lee was right, historians need not look (for whites) undermined the capacity to its superiority in manpower and resources
south of the Mason-Dixon line to explain fight. Perhaps, in the striking phrase of the would tell in the end. But the North had
the wars outcome: the answer is to be prepared to pay the high price
simply the old story of the biggest of victory.
battalions winning. That was certainly
Military observers gave the
how things looked in the bitter final
year of the war, when Union armies
Union scant chance of Morale dimension
The Confederates certainly understood
vastly outnumbered and outgunned subduing the Confederacy this. The only way the South could win
ragbag Confederate forces. the war was for the North to give up.
late historian David Donald, the South died And so, from the outset, the driving purpose
Confederate strengths of democracy. Yet what is striking about the of the military strategy of the South was to
But Lees explanation is too simple. After Confederacy is how much power the undermine northern morale not just in its
all, when the war broke out, most seasoned government in Richmond had, taking armies, but on the home front. That was one
military observers in Europe gave the control of munitions manufacturing, and reason for Lees invasions of northern soil
Union, a government with a tiny standing impounding property. From nothing, the in 1862 and 1863. It was also why Lincolns
army, scant chance of militarily subduing South created what was for a while one of re-election was so important, because it
the Confederacy, a territory the size of the the most effective and disciplined armies the represented a continued willingness to fight
whole of western Europe. Like their world had seen. on the part of the Union.
Revolution-era forebears, the Confederates Perhaps, then, the underlying failure of In the end, perhaps the truth is that the
could have won against superior forces the Confederacy can be found in fault lines North won the war because the idea of
because they had compensating advantages: in southern society. Did class tensions maintaining the Union was powerful
a resilient population, talented military undermine the war effort? Were women on enough to overcome setbacks. The North
leaders, the advantage of fighting a defensive the home front insufficiently committed to could very well have lost, but only if it had
war in country they knew and, above all, a the cause? In fact, only in the final months lost the will to win, and despite occasional
cause for which most white southerners of conflict did a failure of morale tangibly wavering, it never did.
were prepared to make great sacrifices. affect the ability of Confederate armies to
George W Randolph, a Confederate resist. This was a tough society. Adam I P Smith is a senior lecturer in history at
general, expressed a common view in the The most convincing internal factor University College London and author of The

south when he predicted in 1861 that: They behind southern defeat was the very American Civil War (Palgrave, 2007)

80 BBC History Magazine

Why the South lost

Robert E Lee (seated at the

table, left) surrenders to Union
commander Ulysses S Grant
at Appomattox Court House
Freed slaves

When the civil war began, escaping slaves fled to Union lines. But as
Jim Downs explains, for many their lives continued to be difficult, blighted
by racism, violence, hunger, economic insecurity and disease

ER NAME WAS Lethy and The contract stipulated that Lethy would due her by said laborer for labor already
she lived on a plantation in work in the potato patches, garden and to performed. Although the former
south-western Georgia. She work about the yard generally. In exchange slaveholder acknowledged that Lethy
was born into slavery in the for her labour, the planter agreed to pay suffered from womb disease, he
second or third decade of the 19th century. Lethy five dollars a month as well as provide nevertheless devised a clause about
Before the civil war, she gave birth to a food, fuel, and quarters for her and for feigning illness that would inhibit her
son, Henry, in 1856, but her pregnancy her son, Henry. According to the contract, from declaring herself as sick since such
involved complications, leading her an articulation would invariably
owner to describe her as infirm lead to her termination as well as
from womb disease, an unclear Southern law prohibited a forfeiting of her earnings.
medical diagnosis. The contract did, however,
We know about Lethy because enslaved people from make a reference to doctors bills
her former slaveholder initiated an
employment contract with her on
learning to read and write that stipulated that Lethy would
be responsible to pay for cases of
1 July 1865. The contract symbolised protracted illness and the former
one of the wars most dramatic Lethy had to agree to pay for both her owner would be responsible for cases
consequences: the collapse of slavery and clothing and that of Henry. of incidental sickness. It remains unclear
the creation of a new form of economic The contract also included a clause in how the plantation owner determined what
relations. While the Georgia planter which Lethy had to agree to remain under constituted protracted or incidental

enslaved her before the war, he noted her former owners employ until December sickness as well as what defined feigning
in the contract that the United States 1865 and if she should quit, fail to faithfully illness or being legitimately sick.
government decreed Lethy as a perform or become insolent or feign As a mother of a nine-year-old son, for
freedwoman and thereby he needed to sickness for the purpose of idleness, that whom she had to provide food, clothing
enter a contract negotiation with her. she would forfeit all wages that may be and shelter, Lethy had little choice other

82 BBC History Magazine

Freed slaves

than to accept the problematic terms of contract as evidence of African-Americans extent to which she participated in the
the contract. Like many post-war contracts persistent dependence on white creation of a new labour arrangement.
negotiated between formerly enslaved southerners. These historians further argued While Lethys voice remains absent in the
people and plantation owners, Lethy signed that formerly enslaved people should have contract itself, many historians of this
the contract by marking an X above her returned to the plantation south in order generation would nevertheless uncover her
name. Since antebellum southern law to become a dependent black labour class, imprint on it, arguing that Lethy had a say
prohibited enslaved people from learning an echo of proslavery rhetoric. in its terms. They would turn to the clause
how to read and write, many could not that made a distinction about the payment
sign their name on the new contracts that New perspectives of doctors bills. Given that Lethy agreed to
developed during the post-war period. In the 1960s and 1970s, inspired by the civil be responsible for doctors bills in cases of
The end of the civil war provided rights movement, a generation of historians protracted illness but the former owner
Lethy with freedom, but power remained shattered these interpretations, claiming agreed to pay for incidental sickness could
in the hands of the white master who once African-Americans were principal actors suggest that Lethy shifted some of the
enslaved her. Or did it? in the rebuilding of the nation. They burden of the medical fees to her owner,
After slavery ended, early 20th-century interpreted contracts, like the one brokered even if it was not entirely in her favour.
American historians decried, similar to between Lethy and her former owner, as While the first generation of historians
proslavery advocates a century earlier, illustrations of former slaves agency their of emancipation claimed that African-
freedpeoples ability to lead autonomous, ability to negotiate terms of employment. Americans were dependent and inferior,
productive lives without white supervision. Marking an X by her name, for example, the second generation claimed the opposite,
They interpreted examples like Lethys signaled Lethys newly won freedom and the uncovering glimmers of indefatigable

Union soldiers in the Army

of the Potomac, including
one African-American
recruit, take a meal break

BBC History Magazine 83

Freed slaves

A cartoon from 1868 shows General Oliver O Howard, head of the Freedmens Bureau set up to support ex-slaves, mediating between groups of whites and blacks

independence and strategic brilliance. combination of battle, disease and for formerly enslaved peoples conditions,
But instead of framing Lethys experience desertion. The military needed to increase nor were there guidelines for how
and that of the other four million enslaved its might and manpower, and slowly began emancipation would unfold. Consequently
people who became free during the civil to turn to the population of enslaved people emancipation erupted chaotically, and the
war in the context of agency, let us instead who fled to their lines as a way to buttress military and government were mostly
examine this transformation in the context the ranks. On 1 January 1863, President interested in the labour power that former
of the destruction, violence and disease Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation slaves could contribute to the Union cause.
the war produced, in an effort better to Proclamation that legally freed slaves in the The army forced freedmen to dig ditches,
understand freedpeoples lives. Confederate states in an effort to support fortify garrisons, rebuild broken bridges
the Union cause. and bury dead bodies. Enlistment only
Heading north extended to a portion of formerly
When the civil war first began, enslaved men, fewer than 135,000.
enslaved people throughout the Union officials lacked food, The Army paid those men less than
plantation south began to escape white troops and compelled them to
from slavery by running to Union clothing and resources to endure the racist attitudes of white
lines for refuge. During the course of
the war, an estimated 500,000 former
provide for the newly freed commanding officers.
For freedwomen, the conditions
enslaved people fled to camps located were much worse. A relatively few
in Kentucky, Mississippi, New Orleans, Lincolns call for emancipation resulted were lucky to gain employment as
Tennessee and Virginia. Built out of not from a moral opposition to slavery but washerwomen, cooks and servants, in
used army tents and worn materials, rather stemmed from a military strategy to exchange for rations and shelter in Union
these makeshift camps provided a safe win the war. Further, the Proclamation only camps; while the overwhelming majority
harbour from former slaveholders and applied to the southern states that rebelled were left with no opportunity to earn
Confederate guerillas, but that was about against the federal government; slavery rations, and thereby starved, suffered
it. The military did not anticipate that the remained intact in the so-called border and became sick.

war would lead to immediate emancipation. states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and
As a result, Union military officials lacked Missouri), which officially remained aligned Illness strikes
the food, clothing and other resources to neither the northern or southern cause. Disease was a constant problem in the civil
to provide for the newly freed who ran Lincoln feared that if he included the border war. Indeed, more soldiers died during the
to Union regiments for assistance. states in his Proclamation, that they would war from disease than from battle. This
Meanwhile, by the late summer of 1862, join forces with the Confederacy. made life particularly precarious for former
the Union army had become beleaguered, Given the roots of the Emancipation slaves who lacked the basic necessities
and lost many soldiers because of a Proclamation, there was never a concern to survive. Beginning as early as 1861,

84 BBC History Magazine

Freed slaves

a smallpox epidemic broke out in historians are beginning to unearth and clothing during and after the war,
Washington, DC. It spread to the upper references to the rape of formerly enslaved negotiating a contract with her former
south in 1863 and to the lower south in women in federal records, court cases and owner provided Lethy with the basic
1866 where it claimed the lives of more personal correspondence. The shocking necessities to survive, which many of
than 60,000 freedpeople. Although the details of these crimes lies in the chilling her contemporaries lacked.
medical community had recognised irony that northern men, who came in the
vaccination as a way to ward off the virus name of freedom to the south, actually Crimes against women
since the turn of the 19th century, officials perpetrated crimes against the women they The violence that freedwomen endured
failed to extend these basic measures to were meant to liberate and to protect. in Union camps namely the threat of
the population of the newly freed. Further, The utter violence combined with sexual assault and racism was likely
many argued, as a journalist for the the explosive outbreak of epidemics that not something from which Lethy could
New York Times did in 1866, that: claim exception. The government
Small-pox rages among them forced Lethys planter to recognise
dirt, debauchery, idleness, are the Freed slaves in camps lacked her as a freedwomen, no longer as his
cases of this inordinate mortality. property. However, the government
Both the northern press and the even the ability to quarantine could not legislate the daily, tense
federal authorities failed to consider interactions between a former master
that the epidemic reached inordinate
those infected with disease and a formerly enslaved woman.
mortality because freed slaves were How they interacted, how they
forced to live in unsanitary camps, where freedpeople endured during the civil spoke to each and how they understood
they lacked access to vaccination and even war might provide a better context to each other did not change immediately
the ability to quarantine those infected. understand Lethys employment contract. because of a contract or even a law that
Compounding matters, while the Union For Lethy, to leave the plantation would redefined their relationship.
army represented protection for formerly have meant entering into a world where she Yet something quite revolutionary did
enslaved women, life among soldiers proved and her son could become fatally sick or happen. Lethy was indeed free. She could
dangerous. In January 1864 in a Union starve to death. Given that Lethy had already break the contract, even if it meant she
camp in New Orleans, soldiers snuck into suffered from some type of illness, this may would not be paid. But perhaps we should
the quarters of freedwomen, climbed into have influenced her decision to enter into see this as the price of freedom.
their beds, and raped one woman and a negotiation with her former owner rather
sexually assaulted three others. The full than venture out on her own. Additionally, Jim Downs is the author of Sick from Freedom:
details of the episode remain unclear, but since many enslaved people who liberated African-American Illness and Suffering during the
incidents like these proliferated throughout themselves from the plantation south lived Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University
the war and its aftermath. A number of in a kind of limbo without shelter, food, Press, 2012)

Growing rice, work often undertaken by African-

Americans, was hugely physically demanding

A group of freed slaves poses in Richmond, Virginia

in 1865, the year the capital of the Confederacy
fell to Union forces ahead of the civil war ending An image of contrabands escaped slaves taken during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862

BBC History Magazine 85

Life for veterans

The idyllic welcome home was shortlived

for many veterans the war had deep-
rooted effects on their bodies and minds


Many soldiers returned from the civil war to face hardship, especially those on
the losing side, who didnt get government aid, writes Susan-Mary Grant

OHN SITGREAVES GREEN Hospital in New York, he began to persistent psychological problems. In
from South Carolina experience sleeplessness and bouts 1868, Oscar D Jones, a former private
harboured no particular of raving. He turned to alcohol as in the Second Florida Cavalry, was
ambitions to be a soldier. The a form of self-medication but this admitted to the asylum. He too had
former treasurer of South Carolina only made his condition worse. By suffered devastating physical injury.
College, and later the archivist in 1877, his family had endured enough. Jones was shot through the hip and
charge of the preservation of the When Green seized the stage in order temporarily paralysed, his physicians
states colonial and revolutionary to read out some poetry at a public later concluding that it was from this
records, he was a man more at home Penny Reading event, organised that his hopeless insanity stemmed.
among books than on battlefields. to raise funds for a Confederate
Yet when the civil war broke out, monument, the great scandal Physical wounds
Green, possibly inspired by his states Although both Green and Jones
revolutionary heritage, with which
he was so familiar, was quick to
The fixed rate for missing apparently recovered from their
physical wounds, it was the lasting
volunteer his services. He remained body parts was six dollars psychological damage they sustained
in the Confederate army until 1865. that wrecked their lives. For many
However, he did not escape the for a big toe, or 12 for an eye other soldiers, although their
war unscathed. Having sustained a symptoms were not perhaps so
sabre-cut of excruciating, continued caused by his behaviour prompted severe, the war still left its mark.
agony, Green became addicted to his family to commit him to the In the most extreme cases, this
the opium he was prescribed as pain South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, consisted of the loss of a limb that
relief for his wound. Nevertheless, where he died four years later. compromised the veterans return
at first he appeared to settle back Green was hardly the only inmate to civilian life. In a nation where
into civilian life and even served of the South Carolina asylum whose only 20 per cent of the population

as a district judge. path to its door began on the lived in an urban environment and
It was not long before both battlefields of the civil war. Nor was more than 50 per cent of workers
Greens health and mind began to he the only one for whom physical were employed in an agricultural
deteriorate. Although eventually damage, perhaps through the pain capacity, that life was likely to have
weaned off opium at St Lukes it caused, proved the precursor to involved hard physical labour.

86 BBC History Magazine

Life for veterans

In recognition of this fact, the out via a fixed rate for missing body
Union provided both pensions and parts six dollars for a big toe, for
prosthetic limbs for its wounded example, or 12 dollars for the loss
soldiers. Prosthetics, indeed, proved of an eye. The veteran had to prove
a lucrative business for those who that his disability had been incurred
recognised the demand and set out in the course of the conflict. This
to meet it. And with some 30,000 resulted in the development of an
amputations performed on Union extensive bureaucracy of benevolence
soldiers alone, demand was high. in the north, comprising lawyers,
There were a similar number in the administrators, physicians, clerks,
Confederacy. In total, around 10 per neighbours and former comrades,
cent of all the wounded who survived all geared toward validating claims
were amputees. Between the start of before the Pension Bureau decided
the war and 1873, some 150 patents on the amount payable. But despite
for prosthetic devices were issued, disability benefits, the economic
an increase of around 300 per cent outlook for many veterans was bleak.
over the previous decade. This was not what most soldiers
had envisaged at the end of the war Union infantryman William Sargent lost
Southern support both arms in the civil war
The federal government did not
provide prosthetics for Confederate
Pension payments alone triumph The crutch of the
veterans, who had to rely on private accounted for about 40 per crippled soldier may stand us in
charity in the form of the Association stead of a coronet, to betoken where
for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers cent of the federal budget admiration and respect are due.
(ARMS) or on their financially Public sympathy proved then, as
devastated states for support. when, welcomed home as heroes, now, fickle in its fidelity to those who
Most former Confederate states they marched through Washington had fought. As the price of pensions
did manage to offer some aid, in May 1865 under banners and prosthetics rose, the civil war
recognising, as North Carolina did, announcing that: The Only National veteran was increasingly regarded
the need to provide amputees with Debt We Can Never Pay is the Debt as a fiscal liability, a drain on the
artificial limbs and thus to restore We Owe to the Victorious Union state. From three per cent in 1866,
them, as far as is practicable, to the Soldiers. Such enthusiasm soon by the turn of the century pension
comfortable use of their persons, faded. Only two weeks later the New payments alone accounted for about
to the enjoyment of life and to the York Times criticised the lack of 40 per cent of the federal budget.
ability to earn a subsistence. enthusiasm exhibited by the people
Pensions were, though, beyond for whom these noble men have done Contemporary resonance
the ability of the former Confederacy so much. Before the years end, the The civil war soldiers experiences
at first, resulting in widespread New York Tribune published a letter established the groundwork upon
hardship in the immediate post-war from a Union veteran bemoaning which an entire veterans benefits
period. Union wounded veterans the sight of thousands of maimed administration would be constructed
by contrast could receive on average soldiers on the citys streets. What in the USA following the wars of
about 30 per cent of a labourers attention is paid to them? he asked, the 20th century. But much of the
income in the form of a pension. None whatever. Two years later, the suspicion and mistrust that pursued
The amount varied depending on Times returned to the theme of the the civil war soldier into the civilian
the nature and extent of the disability persistent decline of popular interest world lay between the lines of the
suffered. By 1873, this was worked in the heroes who wrought out our pension paperwork and behind the
public pride expressed at parades.
Today, we enthuse over the
The grand review at Washington on 23 May sophisticated prosthetics available
1865, a celebration of the Union victory for wounded soldiers and we better
understand the psychological
wounds of conflict, but both modern
and civil war soldiers would agree on
one simple truth: The grind
of battle wears on the toughest
of men, as one Iraqi veteran put
it and, as John Sitgreaves Greens
family found, too often follows the
soldier home.

Susan-Mary Grant is professor of

American history at Newcastle University
and author of The War for a Nation: the
American Civil War (Routledge, 2006)

BBC History Magazine 87

Postwar reconstruction

The civil war determined, once and for all, that America was one nation,
indivisible. But it did not determine what kind of a nation it would be,
says Heather Cox Richardson. Somehow, Americans had to construct
a new country out of the bitterly divided states

WO NEW FACTORS higher than white troops. Women treasury, Congress had introduced a
would determine the had spent the war years tending fields, new measure: national taxes. For the
shape of postwar America. buying bonds, giving sons to the war first time in American history, voting
Firstly, the war had and supporting the president. New would have a direct impact on how
revolutionised the idea of American immigrants had rushed to the Union, other peoples money was spent.
citizenship. Before the war, Americans struggling on battlefields and in These two factors would determine
had looked to educated, propertied wheatfields to produce cash crops the course of reconstruction.
white men to govern. But in the that brought gold to the treasury. Now,
south, those were the very men who African-Americans, women and Recreating the status quo
had set out to destroy the Union. immigrants wanted their say. Congress adjourned in early March
Meanwhile, people excluded from Secondly, the issue of which voices 1865 and would not reconvene until
government had rallied around it. would be welcome in postwar early December. After Lincolns death
Uneducated and impoverished government had huge importance in April, vice president Andrew
African-Americans had thrown because during the war, Congress had Johnson became US President and
themselves behind the Union: black changed the countrys financial had nine months without oversight
soldiers died at a rate 40 per cent system. To meet the needs of the to restore the nation. A border state
Democrat, Johnson wanted to
recreate the antebellum status quo,
without slavery. Democrats would,
he believed, rally to him and retake
the country, running it much as they
had before the civil war. There would
be no new voices and, once he
restored the Union and gutted the
governments wartime apparatus,
no national taxes.
He began his term by pardoning
all but about 1,500 former
Confederates. To gain readmission to
the Union, he demanded only that
southern legislatures abolish slavery,
nullify ordinances of secession and

repudiate the Confederate debt

(which meant southern states could
not repay citizens who had bought
state bonds to finance the war effort).
Southern legislatures did as he
asked. Then they reflected the spirit
Andrew Johnson shown here taking the oath as president after Lincolns assassination led the reconstruction of Johnsons plan by circumscribing

88 BBC History Magazine

Postwar reconstruction

Violence errupted in New Orleans, and white southerners killed and

injured over 100 freed slaves during a riot against reconstruction plans

This racist poster from 1866 attacks republicans on black suffrage.

It depicts a black man as idle, with whites forced to toil in the fields

the lives of freed people. Black Codes

bound black workers to white
employers, restricted their movements, Congressional Republicans refused solution to the problem of
and kept African-Americans from to seat southern representatives, then reintegrating the southern states to
owning property or testifying in granted black southerners the right to the Union was the Fourteenth
court. Southerners then re-elected to own property and to bring suits and Amendment. This constitutional
Congress a raft of ex-Confederates, testify in court. They also established amendment expanded citizenship to
including Alexander Stephens, the federal courts in the south to give African-American men as well as the
vice president of the Confederacy. ex-slaves access to legal protection. children of all immigrants. It also
Under Johnsons policies, the postwar Johnson vetoed these laws, tried to nudge the south toward black
south looked much like the arguing both that they gave black suffrage by threatening to reduce a
antebellum south. men more legal rights than white states congressional representation if
In December 1865, Johnson men and that the officials necessary it denied the vote to a significant
greeted the new Congress with the to protect black rights would waste number of its men. Congress called
cheery news that reconstruction was tax dollars. Then he announced for southern states to ratify the
over. All Congress now had to do was Congress was operating illegally amendment before readmission to
seat the newly elected southern because it was passing laws without the Union.
representatives, disband the military southern representatives. It could not
and slash the federal budget back to legislate, he said, until it restored the Continued rebellion
antebellum levels. With the exception south to the Union. Congress promptly In summer 1866, Johnson railed
of slavery, America would be just as it repassed its laws over his veto. against congressmen as traitors
was before the war. The battle lines were drawn. On trying to break up the Government.
the one hand, Republicans defended Convinced Democrats would sweep
Mississippi frog-pond the 1866 midterm elections and that
Republican congressmen, however, a new Democratic Congress would
utterly rejected Johnsons version of Northerners had watched, endorse his own policies, he urged
reconstruction. Northern soldiers
had died in bloody piles at Antietam,
horrified, as ex-Confederates southern whites to ignore
Republicans reconstruction plan.
rotted from infections in dirty hospitals virtually re-enslaved the In Memphis and New Orleans,
and starved at Andersonville, while white southerners rioted, killing or
their kinfolk sweated in fields and black southerners wounding more than 100 African-
factories to support the war. Finally Americans and destroying hundreds
victorious, northerners had watched, the rights of all loyal Americans to of thousands of dollars worth of
horrified, as ex-Confederates retook equal protection under the laws. On property. Aghast at the Souths
control of the south and virtually the other, Democrats complained continuing rebellion, northerners
re-enslaved the black southerners that Republicans were using tax repudiated Johnson and gave
who had been loyal to the Union. dollars to help black Americans at the Republicans a two-thirds majority
The Chicago Tribune snarled in expense of hardworking white men. in Congress.
December 1865: The men of the Republicans were not necessarily Since southern whites had
North will convert the State of keen advocates of black voting, but ignored the Fourteenth Amendment,
Mississippi into a frog-pond before Johnsons pardon of most white congressmen passed the landmark
they will allow [the Black Codes] to southern Democrats made them turn Military Reconstruction Act in
disgrace one foot of soil in which the to black suffrage to keep the March 1867. This law divided the ten
bones of our soldiers sleep and over government out of the hands of unreconstructed southern states into
which the flag of freedom waves. ex-Confederates. Congressmens five military districts and

BBC History Magazine 89

Postwar reconstruction

Despite avid campaigning, women were

denied a voice in the 14th amendment

refused to seat the states

representatives, thus remanding
Georgia to military rule. Then it
passed the Fifteenth Amendment to
the Constitution, ensuring a citizens
right to vote could not be restricted
by race and required Georgia to ratify
the amendment. It did so and on
15 July 1870 Congress readmitted
Georgia to the Union, formally
For many, reconstruction was a patriotic and religious journey, as can be seen in this allegorical picture from 1867 ending reconstruction.

Shutting out women

required southern states to But the reconstruction of a new
rewrite their constitutions. In a
Democrats donned sheets to nation was still not over. White
revolutionary change to American
government, it permitted black men
look like the ghosts of dead women refused to give up their seat
at the national table when black men
to vote for the delegates to those Confederate soldiers, and had taken theirs. The civil war came
constitutional conventions. When to an end, leaving the slave not only
southern whites opted for military terrorised Republican voters emancipated, but endowed with the
occupation rather than registering full dignity of citizenship, Boston
black voters, Congress put the Ku Klux Klan members murdered reformer Julia Ward Howe recalled.
military in charge of the process. about a thousand people. The women of the North had
Newly registered southern voters Their campaign of terror failed. greatly helped to open the door
elected officials who wrote new state Voters accepted the new constitutions which admitted him to freedom and
constitutions establishing black and the Fourteenth Amendment. In its safeguard, the ballot. Was this door
suffrage. Desperate to prevent the 1868, Congress readmitted southern to be shut in their face?
ratification of those constitutions, states to the Union. Briefly, it seemed, In 1869, after being excluded from
southern Democrats donned sheets a reconstructed government would the Fourteenth Amendment, Elizabeth
designed to look like the ghosts of include all loyal men. Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony
dead Confederate soldiers, and But reconstruction was not over. organised the National Woman
terrorised Republican voters before After readmission, the Georgia Suffrage Association, demanding a
the 1868 election. In the months legislature expelled its black variety of reforms. Months later, Lucy
before voters went to the polls, these legislators. Congress promptly Stone and Julia Ward Howe organised

Timeline Key events in creating a new country after the civil war

1865 1866 1867 1868

Black Codes Memphis and New The Military 14th Amendment
Southern legislature tries Orleans Riots Reconstruction Act Congressmen base
to force freed people into Bloody race riots convince Congress divides ten reconstruction on changing

quasi-slavery northerners to abandon southern states into five the Constitution to establish
Johnsons postwar military districts, overseen equal rights for all men
reconstruction policies by army officers

90 BBC History Magazine

Postwar reconstruction

the American Woman Suffrage Americans to provide services or southerners openly terrorised black
Association, seeking only the vote in shorter hours, or better conditions voters while northerners railed
the belief that from suffrage all other for the less affluent voters. Socialism, against politically active urban
womens rights would flow. Excluded southerners argued, had taken root in immigrants. Democrats won the
the following year from the Fifteenth the south, where it was preventing the popular vote in the hotly contested
Amendment, women staged a vote economy from rebounding from the presidential election of that year, but
in during the presidential election of war. Northerners looked at the Republican Rutherford B Hayes won
1872 to claim their citizenship under crippled southern economy and the Electoral College in part by
the Fourteenth Amendment. When listened. They worried that promising the government would no
the registrar turned a suffragist away redistributive policies would destroy longer protect black voting.
from the polls, her challenge began to the nation by undercutting a mans By 1880, the south was solidly
work its way to the Supreme Court. ability to accumulate wealth, and thus Democratic; it would remain so
By 1872, though, northerners had his desire to work. for almost 100 years. In the north
begun to retreat from the idea that and west too, states began to rewrite
every American should have a say in Fear of an underclass their constitutions, once again
the postwar nation. The rise of In the 1870s, a fight to control the limiting the right to vote to
organised labour brought home Republican Party fed this growing propertied white men.
southern Democrats complaints that fear of a dangerous underclass. In the end, the postwar years did
an activist government would tax the Elected in 1868, President reconstruct a new nation, but not the
wealthy to benefit poor workers. In Ulysses S Grant tried to wrest inclusive world Republicans had
1866, Americas first National Labour political power from the senior envisioned in 1865. Instead, the
Union met to call for an eight-hour Republicans who had bested peculiar mix of racism, citizenship
working day, higher wages and better Johnson. They fought back, attacking and novel taxation in the postwar
working conditions. Grant by charging that his southern years meant that reconstruction
Wealthy northerners began to governments were deliberately created a new mindset in American
worry that southerners were right: redistributing wealth from people: government activism to
the voice of workers in government hardworking white southerners to protect equal rights was socialism,
would lead to a redistribution of lazy ex-slaves in order to garner votes. and it would destroy America.
wealth through taxation or pro- Their vitriol was a ploy, but those
labour legislation. With the eruption powerful Republicans controlled Heather Cox Richardson, professor of
of the Paris Commune in spring most of the nations newspapers. history at Boston College, is author of
1871, they were sure of it. They insisted federal support for West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction
Pointing to the recent terrible widespread suffrage meant socialism. of America after the Civil War (YUP, 2007)
Communistic outbreak in Paris, one That accusation spread across the
reformer wrote: In the judgment of nation and rooted deep in the
one who has been familiar with our American psyche.
dangerous classes for 20 years, there Ten years after the end of the civil
are just the same explosive social war, the national mood had shifted.
elements beneath the surface of No longer were Americans willing to
New York as of Paris. insist that everyone should have a say
The coincidence of black voting in the government. In 1875, the
and rising numbers of immigrant Supreme Court decided the suffragist
workers convinced wealthy case from 1872. Women were citizens,
Americans that the expansion of the the court said in the case Minor
body politic invited communism. versus Happersett, but citizenship did
They worried that black field workers not convey a right to vote.
and urban labourers would elect This bombshell blessed suffrage
officials who would tax hardworking restriction. In 1876, white An optimistic view of African-American men voting for the first time

1870 1875 1876 1890 (and beyond)

15th Amendment Minor versus Election Suffrage
After the Georgia legislature Happersett White Democrats retake Restrictions
expels its black members, The Supreme Court decides control of the South States across the Union
Congress passes the 15th that citizenship does not restrict suffrage on grounds
Amendment, guaranteeing convey the right to vote, other than race, but which
a citizens right to vote effectively denying the vote nevertheless effectively
cannot be restricted by race to women disenfranchise most blacks

BBC History Magazine 91

Visiting the battle sites

This bronze of General Robert E Lee in

Richmond, Virginia, is one of five
Confederate statues on Monument Avenue
Visiting the battle sites

visiting the battle sites
Follow in the footsteps of the American Civil Wars heroes and victims, as
Aaron Astor takes us on a modern-day tour of the conflicts most important
battle sites, thought-provoking museums and memorials that honour the fallen

HE FIRST CIVIL war amputated limbs and lives. But to visit these respected spaces, even as
tourists were surely the returning soldiers congregated too the contemporary civil rights
most shocked of all. to pay last respects and to reconcile movement lent new urgency to this
Picnic-goers from the with old enemies on hallowed battle new birth of freedom. Meanwhile,
nations capital city trekked a mere 30 sites. As white northerners and relic hunters, kitschy novelty shops
miles west to the rolling hills near the southerners made their peace in the and hideous observation towers
Manassas railroad junction on a hot late 19th century, they semi- accompanied the new civil war
July day in 1861, with the hopes of consciously eschewed all the talk of tourist of post-Second World War
witnessing a summary thrashing of causes slavery, treason, race, rights America, and re-enactors sought to
the ragtag rebel army. In the first and consecrated battlefield grounds embody the lives of Johnny Reb and
afternoon of battle all seemed to as pilgrimage destinations. When Billy Yank.
go well. But then came the famous President Lincoln dedicated the
rally around the stone wall of Gettysburg National Cemetery in History hunters
Thomas Jonathan Jackson and the November 1863 as a site where men The 150th anniversary of the war
Confederates at First Bull Run drove fought and died so that a nation can once again invites the nation and the
the terrified Union soldiers and long endure, he laid the groundwork world to these places of death and
their travelling voyeurs in a for generations who returned. renewal. But in the post-civil rights
panicked race back to Washington. age, tourists want more than
The macabre scenes of physical regimental troop movements and
destruction, disfigured corpses and Macabre scenes filled the maps of flanking manoeuvres. As
hospital tents filled with agonising such, national and state parks offer
cries for water, opium or deathly pages of the nations and tourists on the civil war trail today a
release soon filled the pages of the
nations and the worlds media.
the worlds media more comprehensive window into
the complex conflict. The journey
The photographs of Mathew Brady, is now far more befitting of a battle
who extensively documented the civil But why and how did they return? that shaped the very identity of the
war, made the tableaux of destruction The reconciliationist spirit led to the United States and that led to the
more visceral both for horrified creation of battlefield parks, from emancipation of four million
contemporaries and for posterity. Gettysburg to Shiloh and myriad African-American slaves.
places in between. Ageing veterans What follows is a guide to eight
Peace and preservation and then tourists of a new industrial worthy touring destinations, divided
Most Americans understandably century paid their respects to a into the east and west. Some are
recoiled from the sites of devastation bygone age. First, excursion trains whole cities and others are remote
after the war. Once bucolic places like then the automobile allowed these battlefields. If you visit these places,
Sharpsburg, Chancellorsville and remote places to become stops on the be sure to explore the communities

Chickamauga attempted to rebury national holiday trail. surrounding them, as the civil war
the dead and rebuild communities The wars centennial in the 1960s and its legacy continues to define
that had become morbid graves of encouraged millions of new tourists these regions today.

BBC History Magazine 93

Visiting the battle sites


INDIANA Washington
VIRGINIA Petersburg

The White House of the Confederacy still stands in Richmond, Virginia


not feel that they needed the United
States of America.
SOUTH Several sites within the city are
critical for the civil war tourist. The
Charleston Charleston Museum boasts a new
gallery on the civil war, filled with
local artefacts from the Federal siege
of the city, including torpedo mines,
secession tables, prosthetic limbs and

THE EAST slave badges. Nearby, Citadel military

school is worth a visit: its cadets,
manning a battery on Morris Island,
fired the first shots of the civil war.
The Hunley, one of the worlds
Charleston Take a walk along the battery that first submarines, can be viewed at the
guarded homes of the planter elite Warren Lasch Conservation Center.
It all began here not just the firing and you can picture what they saw A short drive out of the city and you
on Fort Sumter but also the secession out there at sea a world of riches can see the Boone Hall Plantation in
convention on 20 December 1860. and trade. Behind them, in the Mount Pleasant, which offers a
The ferry boat to Fort Sumter in interior, lay swampland and a nation unique display of the Lowcountrys
Charlestons harbour is a must, not whose only useful purpose seemed to slave culture and the development of
only for the tour of the fort itself but be to provide a navy that would the Gullah an African-American
also for the view of the peninsular protect the wealth wrought by Sea society in the region.
city. Its easy to imagine thousands of Island slaves. Secession makes more
ships clogging the harbour with sense when you stand here and realise
cargoes of rice, slaves and indigo. that the rice planter elite simply did Richmond and
As the capital city of the south,
Richmond, Virginia, was a site of
political intrigue, military struggle
and churning industry. The Museum
of the Confederacy and the preserved
White House of the Confederacy
stand next to one another in the
Court End section of downtown. On
display are original uniforms, flags,
weapons and other possessions of
Confederate leaders, civilians and
soldiers. Take a drive down the
controversial Monument Avenue to
see the statues of Jefferson Davis,
Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee.

Visit the Tredegar Iron Works to take

in a showcase of the industrial works
Where the battle began: start your civil war tour at Fort Sumter, South Carolina where the first shots were fired that served as the chief Confederate

94 BBC History Magazine

Visiting the battle sites

armoury. The museum also reveals

the experience of slaves who toiled at
the works during the war.
Outside the city are two national
battlefield parks worth visiting. The
Richmond National Battlefield is
where two campaigns the 1862
Peninsula Campaign and the 1864
overland campaign were fought. An
80-mile driving tour, recommended
at the park, will guide you through
most of the important sites. Just 25
miles south is the Petersburg
National Battlefield, which preserves
the site of the longest siege of the war.
At City Point you can learn about
General Grants massive supply base,
and in the Eastern Front section of
the battlefield you can see the site of
the famous battle of the Crater.

Your tour would not be complete
without visiting the scene of the
bloodiest single battle of the entire From carnage to calm, Gettysburg National Cemetery is a place of rest for the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives
war: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. What
was once a garish den of tourist traps
is now an impressive historical site. Chamberlains defence helped to Lincoln Memorial has become a
A driving tour of the battlefield preserve the entire Federal line. beloved national symbol. There are
begins at the Gettysburg National Also worth visiting is the numerous places in and around the
Parks Visitor Center, where you Gettysburg National Cemetery, capital that tell the civil war story.
can also admire the relocated 1884 which President Lincoln dedicated First is Fords Theatre, site of
cyclorama of The Battle of Gettysburg, on 19 November 1863 with his Lincolns assassination the balcony
a painting by Philippoteaux. Bicycles famous Gettysburg Address. Do take of which still brings chills to visitors.
are a great way to experience the in the town itself, which is preserved The National Building Museum
haunting beauty of the site. Popular with quaint shops, bookstores and began as one of the worlds first
stops include the Peach Orchard and restaurants. The David Wills House dedicated office buildings designed
Wheatfield, the monuments along in downtown Gettysburg offers an primarily to administer pensions for
Cemetery Ridge and Seminary Ridge, exhibit on the clean-up after the Union veterans. Take a tour and
Culps Hill, Devils Den, and Little battle, as the town became one of the witness some of the earliest efforts to
Round Top where Joshua Lawrence largest hospital sites in modern design a building that would
history. Check for special events accommodate handicapped soldiers.
hosted by the park and by nearby Across the Potomac river is the
Gettysburg College, whose Civil War famous Robert E Lee house at
Institute offers regular seminars, Arlington, now consecrated as the
tours and lectures on various topics National Cemetery. In Alexandria
relating to the civil war. stands a Confederate soldier statue
with his back toward Washington
a reminder that the south loomed
Washington, DC so close to the Federal capital.
and North Virginia An hours drive will take you
to three other critical sites. The
Manassas National Battlefield (site
The nations capital was permanently of two major battles) and the quaint
transformed during the civil war town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia,
from a sleepy southern backwater where John Browns failed slave
into a major modern metropolis. The insurrection in 1859 helped turn a
citys streets were quickly occupied by shouting match over slavery into a
thousands of soldiers guarding the war. Not far from Harpers Ferry is
capital. Many of the citys beautiful the beautiful Antietam National
circles and squares were named after Battlefield, site of the most savage
Once home to General Lee, Arlington House is now a memorial civil war generals, and the iconic single day in American history.

BBC History Magazine 95

Visiting the battle sites

visitors just how important waterway

PENNSYLVANIA transportation was in the 19th
century. Cannons and magazines
OHIO storing Confederate munitions can
be viewed along the bluff, as can the
cabins built by slaves to house the
VIRGINIA Confederate soldiers. Fifteen miles
west is Fort Henry on the Tennessee
ILLINOIS river, which fell just before Donelson.
KENTUCKY In 1862 it was not effective as it had
Fort Donelson problems with flooding. Today it lies
submerged as the river has been
TENNESSEE dammed. The Dover Hotel, a
Shiloh Chattanooga restored tavern, is worth a visit. It was
Corinth SOUTH here that General Grant accepted the
Chickamauga CAROLINA unconditional surrender of General
Buckner and 13,000 Confederate
MISSISSIPPI GEORGIA soldiers embarked on boats for
ALABAMA prison camps in the north.
Shiloh and
The best-preserved battlefield is,

THE WEST naturally, one of the most remote.

The very name Shiloh connotes
horror and destruction in a place
otherwise defined by natural beauty.
On the banks of the Tennessee river
Fort Donelson successful Union navy driving into near where the states of Alabama,
and through the Confederate Mississippi and Tennessee all meet,
When I take my college students on heartland; and it introduced the lies Shiloh National Battlefield, one
tours across Tennessee to visit the world to Ulysses S Grant, whose of the first to be made into a national
states many civil war sites, I make masterful amphibious attack and call park. Visitors should follow the
sure to point out that Fort Donelson for unconditional surrender made self-guided driving tour and spend
is the most important battle in the him a Union hero. hours gazing across the Hornets
first half of the civil war. Fort Fort Donelson National Park Nest, into the Confederate burial
Donelson is important for three incorporates the Confederate fort trench, along the Pittsburg Landing
major reasons: it led directly to the along the Cumberland River that fell and around the quaint Shiloh chapel.
fall of Nashville, the first Confederate in February 1862. Barge traffic along Just as intriguing, however, is the
state capital to fall; it showcased the the Cumberland river today reminds town of Corinth, Mississippi, 15
miles south. The railroad crossing at
Corinth was the ultimate destination
of the Shiloh campaign and the
towns Crossroads Museum is well
worth a look. However, its The Civil
War Interpretive Center, part of the

Find out how runaways slaves survived

Visit a site of iconic Union victory General Ulysses S Grant demanded Confederate surrender at Fort Donelson during the war at Corinths Contrband Camp

96 BBC History Magazine

Visiting the battle sites

Shiloh National Park, which is the

towns main attraction. Its state-of-
the-art displays depict the siege of
Corinth and the battles in the area.
A powerful memorial fountain
symbolises the carnage and
revolution at the heart of the war.
Another highly impressive sight is
the newly preserved Corinth
Contraband Camp. This is where
runaway slaves found refuge in
Union lines and the process of
emancipation actually unfolded.
These sites at Corinth, as well as the
charming town itself, are must-see
locations on any trip to Shiloh.

Get up close to the USS Cairo in Vicksburg, Mississippi she was a formidable ironclad vessel, boasting 13 cannons
Upon the surrender of Vicksburg,
Mississippi, on July 4, 1863, Lincoln
remarked, The Father of Waters Chattanooga and FIND OUT MORE
again goes unvexed to the sea.
Vicksburg was the Confederate Chickamauga All National Parks
Gibraltar a mighty fortified town As a passageway through the
guarding the Mississippi river and Cumberland mountains, a port on
refusing to budge for months in the the Tennessee river, and a junction THE EAST
spring and summer of 1863. After of three different railroads, Charleston Museum
several battles to the south and east of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a key
the Confederate fortifications, Grant gateway to the deep south. Outside the
laid siege to the town. It was during city looms Lookout Mountain, upon Warren Lasch
this blockade that Vicksburg came to which Federal soldiers were victorious Conservation Center
be known as Prairie Dog Village, as in the battle above the clouds.
the inhabitants survived a cannonade Begin your visit to the area at Boone Hall Plantation
for 47 days by digging out caves in the Chickamauga, 12 miles south. The
towns hills. Outside the National two-day battle here in September
Parks visitor centre, tourists should 1863 was the second deadliest after Museum of the
visit the USS Cairo Gunboat and Gettysburg. Although it was a Confederacy
Museum, as well as several of the Confederate victory, Union troops
Tredegar Iron Works
siege locations, including the Federal fought bravely under General George
Navy Circle and the Confederate lines Rock of Chickamauga Thomas who
at Louisiana Circle and South Fort. organised the rearguard. Be sure to Gettysburg College,
Inside Vicksburg itself, visit the Old see Snodgrass Hill, where Thomas Civil War Institute
Court House museum as well as made his heroic stand, as well as the
General Pembertons Headquarters. Visitor Center, which has one of the
Outside the town is the heartland largest and best 19th-century firearm National Building
of Mississippis famous cotton belt. collections in the world. Museum
The moss-covered back roads are After Chickamauga, venture up Fords Theatre
worth discovering, as well as the city Lookout mountain for a spectacular
of Raymond. Youll find a beautiful view. Visitor information there
courthouse square and a walking trail orients tourists toward sites in
of the battle fought in the months Chattanooga. But be sure to drive THE WEST
leading up to the final siege of along Missionary Ridge and imagine Crossroads Museum
Vicksburg. Head north of Vicksburg Thomass men charging up the hill
and youll find the site of the battle of toward the Confederate centre. If
Millikens Bend, one of the most time permits, head west to the Vicksburg Visitors
important assaults involving University of the South at Sewanee. Center
African-American soldiers. Their The stained glass in its chapel tells
Lookout Mountain
valour in the fight just one month the story of efforts to create the
before the fall of Vicksburg helped Harvard of the Confederacy.
protect the Union supply lines and University of the South
convince Federal authorities that Aaron Astor PhD is Associate Professor at Sewanee
black enlistment should expand. of History at Maryville College, Tennessee

BBC History Magazine 97


The civil war was a key
moment in history. It had
implications that still reverberate
around the world today, argues James M McPherson

HE OUTCOME OF the The acceptance of majority rule has become for the election of the countrys first
American Civil War resolved the bedrock of national unity. African-American president. Much of this,
two fundamental, festering issues By the middle of the 19th century, the arguably, would not have been possible
left over from the revolution of United States, founded more than half a without the civil war and its consequences.
1776. First, whether this fragile republican century earlier on a charter that declared all In another and less tangible way, the
experiment called the United States would men created equal, had become the largest war altered the direction of American
survive as one nation; and second, whether slaveholding country in the world, making development and even the course of world
the house divided would continue to a mockery of Americas self-image as a history in the 20th century. Before 1861,
endure half slave and half free. Both of these beacon of freedom for oppressed peoples. two socioeconomic and cultural systems
issues remained open questions until 1865. As Lincoln said in 1854, The competed for dominance within the body
The founders, the political leaders who monstrous injustice of slavery deprives politic of the United States. Although in
established the United States Constitution, our republican example of its just influence retrospect the triumph of industrial
were well aware that most republics in the world enables the enemies of free capitalism over plantation agriculture seems
through the centuries had been swept into institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us to have been inevitable, that was by no
the dustbin of history. They were obsessed as hypocrites. With the Emancipation means clear before 1861.
with the idea their republic might similarly Proclamation in 1863 and the Thirteenth Most of the slave states seceded that year
fail, and they had reason to be worried. Amendment in 1865, slaverys era passed, not only because they feared the potential
From the early years of the nation, threat to the long-term survival of
certain Americans had advocated
the right of secession. In 186061,
Without the civil war and its slavery posed by Lincolns election, but
also because they looked forward to
11 states did invoke it in response to results, America would be a the expansion of a dynamic,
the election of Lincoln as president, independent slaveholding nation by
thus breaking the country in two and very different place today the acquisition of Cuba and perhaps
creating a potentially fatal precedent more of Mexico and Central America.

for future secessions whenever a minority even if its legacy in the form of racial If the Confederacy had prevailed in the
did not like the results of an election. discrimination and prejudice has long 1860s, it is possible that the United States
At the cost of what is now estimated to plagued the United States. would not have emerged as the worlds
have been 750,000 lives, the Nevertheless, the three constitutional leading economic power by the end of the
American republic amendments that grew directly out of the 19th century, or as its most powerful nation
survived as one civil war have profoundly reshaped the by the second half of the 20th century.
nation. Despite American polity and continue to affect the The United States today is a multicultural
occasional social and political landscape in our time. society made up of many different regional,
mutterings, The Fourteenth Amendment granting ethnic, religious and racial groups, all
no state or citizenship to all persons born in the United blended together in one nation under a
region has States, and forbidding states to abridge the single national flag. Both the diversity of
seriously privileges and immunities of citizens or to social groups and the unity of the national
threatened deny any person the equal protection of the polity are a legacy of the civil war. Without
secession laws has helped to transform the status of that war and its results, America would be
since 1865. racial and ethnic minorities, women and a very different place today.
those persecuted for their sexuality. The
James M McPherson won
Fifteenth Amendment, prohibiting racial James M McPherson is George Henry Davis
a Pulitzer for Battle Cry of discrimination in voting, empowered 1886 Professor of American History, Emeritus,
Freedom: the Civil War Era minority groups and prepared the ground at Princeton University
This fresh portrayal of the American
Civil War offers stimulating accounts
from varying perspectives that beginners
and experts alike will find informative.
Highly recommended.
James M McPherson PhD,
Professor Emeritus of American History at Princeton University