The American Civil War

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The American Civil War

After the War of Independence the United States of America was governed by the Articles of Confederation. This provided for a weak central government and strong state governments. However, it proved unworkable and a new Constitution was adopted that resulted in a stronger Federal government with powers which included regulating interstate commerce as well as foreign affairs.

The different states had varying policies concerning slavery. In some areas of the country where religious groups such as the Quakersplayed a prominent role in political life, there was strong opposition to having slaves. Rhode Island abolished slavery in 1774 and was soon followed by Vermont (1777), Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1781), New Hampshire (1783), Connecticut (1784), New York (1799) and New Jersey (1804). The new states of Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Oregon, California and Illinois also did not have slaves. The importation of slaves from other countries was banned in 1808. However, the selling of slaves within the southern states continued.

Conflict grew in the 19th century between the northern and southern states over the issue of slavery. The northern states were going through an industrial revolution and desperately needed more people to work in its factories. Industrialists in the North believed that, if freed, the slaves would leave the South and provide the labour they needed. The North also wanted tariffs on imported foreign goods to protect their new industries. The South was still mainly agricultural and purchased a lot of goods from abroad and was therefore against import tariffs.

In 1831 Arthur Tappan and Lewis Tappan established the first Anti-Slavery Society in New York. When two years later it became a national organization, Tappan was elected its first president. William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, Samuel Eli Cornish, Angelina Grimke, Sarah Grimke Robert Purvis, Wendell Phillips, John Greenleaf Whittier, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, Lydia Maria Child, William Wells Brownsoon emerged as the main figures in the organization. Its main supporters were from religious groups such as the Quakers and from the free black community. By 1840 the society had 250,000 members, published more than twenty journals and 2,000 local chapters.

The growth in the Antislavery Society worried slaveowners in the South. They feared that the activities of the abolitionists would make it more difficult to run their plantation system. Where possible they wanted to see an expansion of slavery into other areas. They therefore supported the annexation of Texas as they were certain it would become a slave state. They also favoured the Mexican War and agitated for the annexation of Cuba.

Conflict grew in the middle of 19th century between the northern and southern states over the issue of slavery. The northern states were going through an industrial revolution and desperately needed more people to work in its factories. Industrialists in the North believed that, if freed, the slaves would leave the South and provide the labour they needed. The North also wanted tariffs on imported foreign goods to protect their new industries. The South was still mainly agricultural and purchased a lot of goods from abroad and was therefore against import tariffs.

In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law. In future, any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000. People suspected of being a runaway slave could be arrested without warrant and turned over to a claimant on nothing more than his sworn testimony of ownership. A suspected black slave could not ask for a jury trial nor testify on his or her behalf. Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing shelter, food or any other form of assistance was liable to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Those officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee and this encouraged some officers to kidnap free African Americans and sell them to slave-owners.

Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison and John Greenleaf Whittier led the fight against the Fugitive Slave Law. Even moderate anti-slavery leaders such as Arthur Tappan declared he was now willing to disobey the law and as a result helped fund theUnderground Railroad.

In 1854 Stephen A. Douglas introduced his Kansas-Nebraska bill to the Senate. These states could now enter the Union with or without slavery. Frederick Douglass warned that the bill was “an open invitation to a fierce and bitter strife”. The result of this legislation was to open the territory to organized migrations of pro-slave and anti-slave groups. Southerners now entered the area with their slaves while active members of the Antislavery Society also arrived. Henry Ward Beecher, condemned the bill from his pulpit and helped to raise funds to supply weapons to those willing to oppose slavery in these territories.

Kansas elected its first legislature in March, 1855. Although less than 2,000 people were qualified to take part in these elections, over 6,000 people voted. These were mainly Missouri slave-owners who had crossed the border to make sure pro-slavery candidates were elected. The new legislature passed laws that imposed the death penalty for anyone helping a slave to escape and two years in jail for possessing abolitionist literature.

In 1856 Abraham Lincoln joined the Republican Party and unsuccessfully challenged Stephen A. Douglas for his seat in the Senate. Lincoln was opposed to Douglas’s proposal that the people living in the Louisiana Purchase (Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, Montana, and parts of Minnesota, Colorado and Wyoming) should be allowed to own slaves. Lincoln argued that the territories must be kept free for “poor people to go and better their condition”.

Abraham Lincoln raised the issue of slavery again in 1858 when he made a speech at Quincy, Illinois. Lincoln argued: “We have in this nation the element of domestic slavery. The Republican Party think it wrong – we think it is a moral, a social, and a political wrong. We think it is wrong not confining itself merely to the persons of the States where it exists, but that it is a wrong which in its tendency, to say the least, affects the existence of the whole nation. Because we think it wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong. We deal with it as with any other wrong, insofar as we can prevent it growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it.”

Lincoln’s speech upset Southern slaveholders and poor whites, who valued the higher social status they enjoyed over slaves. However, with rapid European immigration taking place in the North, they had a declining influence over federal government.

Opponents of slavery were also becoming more militant in their views. John Brown and five of his sons moved to Kansas Territory to help antislavery forces obtain control of this region. With the support of Gerrit Smith and other prominent Abolitionists, Brown moved to Virginia where he established a refuge for runaway slaves.

In 1859 John Brown led a party of 21 men in a successful attack on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry. Brown hoped that his action would encourage slaves to join his rebellion, enabling him to form an emancipation army. Two days later the armory was stormed by Robert E. Lee and a company of marines. Brown and six men barricaded themselves in an engine-house, and continued to fight until Brown was seriously wounded and two of his sons had been killed. Brown was executed on 2nd December, 1859.

Southern slaveholders were outraged when in 1860 the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate in 1860. They looked to the Democratic Party to defend its interests but when it met in Charleston in April, 1860, it selected, Stephen A. Douglas. Unhappy with this decision, Southern delegates decided to hold another convention in Baltimore in June, where they selected John Breckenridge of Kentucky to fight the election. The situation was further complicated by the formation of the Constitutional Union Party and the nomination of John Bell of Tennessee as its presidential candidate.

Abraham Lincoln won with 1,866,462 votes (18 free states) and beat Stephen A. Douglas (1,375,157 – 1 slave state), John Breckenridge(847,953 – 13 slave states) and John Bell (589,581 – 3 slave states).

In January 1862 the Union Army began to push the Confederates southward. The following month Ulysses S. Grant took his army along the Tennessee River with a flotilla of gunboats and captured Fort Henry. This broke the communications of the extended Confederate line andJoseph E. Johnston decided to withdraw his main army to Nashville. He left 15,000 men to protect Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River but this was not enough and Grant had no difficulty taking this prize as well. With western Tennessee now secured, Abraham Lincoln was now able to set up a Union government in Nashville by appointing Andrew Johnson as its new governor.

General George McClellan appointed Allan Pinkerton to employ his agents to spy on the Confederate Army. His reports exaggerated the size of the enemy and McClellan was unwilling to launch an attack until he had more soldiers available. Under pressure from Radical Republicans in Congress, Abraham Lincoln decided in January, 1862, to remove the conservative Simon Cameron as Secretary of War, and replace him with Edwin M. Stanton.

Soon after this Lincoln ordered George McClellan to appear before a committee investigating the way the war was being fought. On 15th January, 1862, McClellan had to face the hostile questioning of Benjamin Wade and Zachariah Chandler. Wade asked McClellan why he was refusing to attack the Confederate Army. He replied that he had to prepare the proper routes of retreat. Chandler then said: “General McClellan, if I understand you correctly, before you strike at the rebels you want to be sure of plenty of room so that you can run in case they strike back.” Wade added “Or in case you get scared”. After McClellan left the room, Wade and Chandler came to the conclusion that McClellan was guilty of “infernal, unmitigated cowardice”.

As a result of this meeting Abraham Lincoln decided he must find a way to force McClellan into action. On 31st January he issued General War Order Number One. This ordered McClellan to begin the offensive against the enemy before the 22nd February. Lincoln also insisted on being consulted about McClellan’s military plans. Lincoln disagreed with McClellan’s desire to attack Richmond from the east. Lincoln only gave in when the division commanders voted 8 to 4 in favour of McClellan’s strategy. However, Lincoln no longer had confidence in McClellan and removed him from supreme command of the Union Army. He also insisted that McClellan left 30,000 men behind to defendWashington.

Albert S. Johnston and Pierre T. Beauregard reunited their Confederate armies near the Tennessee-Mississippi line. With 55,000 men they now outnumbered the forces led by Ulysses S. Grant. On 6th April the Confederate Army attacked Grant’s army at Shiloh. Taken by surprise, Grant’s army suffered heavy losses until the arrival of General Don Carlos Buell and reinforcements.

During the fighting Albert S. Johnston was killed and the new commander, Pierre T. Beauregard, decided to retreat to Corinth, Mississippi.Shiloh was the greatest battle so far of the Civil War. The Union Army suffered 13,000 casualties and the Confederates lost 10,000. However, the Union Army, with the arrival of General Henry Halleck and his troops, were now the stronger and had little difficulty driving Beauregard out of Corinth.

The difference in manpower between the two sides now becoming more noticeable. Whereas the Union consisted of 23 states and 22,000,000 people, the Confederacy had only 9,000,000 people (including 3,500,000 slaves). President Jefferson Davis now announced that the South could not win the war without conscription. In April the Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act which drafted white men between eighteen and thirty-five for three years’ service.

In May, 1862 General David Hunter began enlisting black soldiers in the occupied districts of South Carolina. He was ordered to disband the 1st South Carolina (African Descent) but eventually got approval from Congress for his action. Hunter also issued a statement that all slaves owned by Confederates in the area were free. Lincoln quickly ordered Hunter to retract his proclamation as he still feared that this action would force slave-owners in border states to join the Confederates.

Radical Republicans were furious and John Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, said that “from the day our government turned its back on the proclamation of General Hunter, the blessing of God has been withdrawn from our arms.” The actions of General David Hunter and Lincoln’s reaction stimulated a discussion on the recruitment of black soldiers in the Northern press. Wendell Phillips asked, “How many times are we to save Kentucky and lose the war?” This debate was also taking place in the Cabinet, as Edwin M. Stanton was now advocating the creation of black regiments in the Union Army.

Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, one of the leaders of the anti-slavery movement, urged Lincoln to “convert the war into a war on slavery”. Lincoln replied that he would continue to place the Union ahead of all else. “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

The federal fleet under David Farragut captured the forts guarding the New Orleans in April, 1862. The following month General Benjamin F. Butler and his troops took control of the city. Butler was accused of treating Rebels very harshly and after ordering the execution of a man who had torn down the United States flag, he was nicknamed the “beast”. Alexander Walker, a pro-Confederate journalist who was one of those arrested, complained that the prisoners were: “closely confined in portable houses and furnished with the most wretched and unwholesome condemned soldiers’ rations.” He added that some were “compelled to wear a ball and chain, which is never removed.”

President Jefferson Davis accused Benjamin F. Butler of “inciting African slaves to insurrection” by arming them for war. Davis issued a statement ordering that Butler “no longer be considered or treated simply as a public enemy of the Confederate States of America, but as an outlaw and common enemy of mankind, and that, in the event of his capture, the officer in command of the captured force do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging.”

During the summer of 1862, George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac, took part in what became known as the Peninsular Campaign. The main objective was to capture Richmond, the base of the Confederate government. McClellan and his 115,000 troops encountered the Confederate Army at Williamsburg on 5th May. After a brief battle the Confederate forces retreated South.

McClellan moved his troops into the Shenandoah Valley and along with John C. Fremont, Irvin McDowell and Nathaniel Banks surroundedThomas Stonewall Jackson and his 17,000 man army. First Jackson attacked John C. Fremont at Cross Keys before turning on Irvin McDowell at Port Republic. Jackson then rushed his troops east to join up with Joseph E. Johnston and the Confederate forces fighting McClellan in the suburbs the city.

General Joseph E. Johnston with some 41,800 men counter-attacked McClellan’s slightly larger army at Fair Oaks. The Union Army lost 5,031 men and the Confederate Army 6,134. Johnson was badly wounded during the battle and General Robert E. Lee now took command of the Confederate forces.

On 26th June, 1862, Major General John Pope, was appointed the commander of the new Army of Virginia. Pope soon made it clear he intended to develop an aggressive approach to the war. Soon after taking command he issued a proclamation to his troops: “I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary, and to beat him where he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily.”

Major General John Pope was instructed to move east to Blue Ridge Mountains towards Charlottesville. It was hoped that this move would help McClellan by drawing Robert E. Lee away from defending Richmond. Lee’s 80,000 troops were now faced with the prospect of fighting two large armies: McClellan (90,000) and Pope (50,000)

Joined by Thomas Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, and George Pickett, the Confederate troops attacked George McClellan atGaines Mill. and on 27th June. After severe fighting the Union Army losses were 893 killed, 3,107 wounded and 2,836 missing. Whereas the Confederate Army had 8,751 killed and wounded.

George McClellan wrote to Abraham Lincoln complaining that a lack of resources was making it impossible to defeat the Confederate forces. He also made it clear that he was unwilling to employ tactics that would result in heavy casualties. He claimed that “ever poor fellow that is killed or wounded almost haunts me!” On 1st July, 1862, McClellan and Lincoln met at Harrison Landing. McClellan once again insisted that the war should be waged against the Confederate Army and not slavery.

In July, 1862, John Pope decided to try a capture Gordonsville, a railroad junction between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. Pope selected Nathaniel Banks to carry out the task. Robert E. Lee considered Gordonsville to be strategically very important and sent Thomas Stonewall Jackson to protect the town. On 9th August, Jackson defeated Banks at Cedar Run. George McClellan and army based at Harrison’s Landing was told to join Pope’s campaign to take the railroad junction. When Lee heard this news he brought together all the troops he had available to Gordonsville.

On 29th August, troops led by Thomas Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet, attacked Pope’s Union Army at Manassas, close to where the first battle of Bull Run had been fought. Pope and his army was forced to retreat across Bull Run. The Confederate Army pursued the Army of Virginia until they reached Chantilly on 1st September.

The Union Army lost 15,000 men at Bull Run. John Pope was blamed for the defeat. A staff officer later recalled that “Pope was entirely deceived and outgeneralled. His own conceit and pride of opinion led him into these mistakes.” Relieved of his command Pope was sent to Minnesota to deal with a Sioux uprising.

The government was now seriously concerned about the poor performance of the Union Army and Salmon Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), Edwin M. Stanton (Secretary of War) and vice president Hannibal Hamlin, who were all strong opponents of slavery, led the campaign to have George McClellan sacked. Unwilling to do this, Abraham Lincoln decided to put McClellan in charge of all forces in theWashington area.

George McClellan became a field commander again when the Confederate Army invaded Maryland in September. McClellan and Major General Ambrose Burnside attacked the armies of Robert E. Lee and Thomas Stonewall Jackson at Antietam on 17th September. Outnumbered, Lee and Jackson held out until Ambrose Hill and reinforcements arrived. It was the most costly day of the war with the Union Army having 2,108 killed, 9,549 wounded and 753 missing.

Although far from an overwhelming victory, Lincoln realized the significance of Antietam and on 22nd September, 1862, he felt strong enough to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln told the nation that from the 1st January, 1863, all slaves in states or parts of states, still in rebellion, would be freed. However, to keep the support of the conservatives in the government, this proclamation did not apply to border slave states: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri that had remained loyal.

Lincoln now wanted George McClellan to go on the offensive against the Confederate Army. However, McClellan refused to move, complaining that he needed fresh horses. Radical Republicans now began to openly question McClellan’s loyalty. “Could the commander be loyal who had opposed all previous forward movements, and only made this advance after the enemy had been evacuated” wrote George W. Julian. Whereas William P. Fessenden came to the conclusion that McClellan was “utterly unfit for his position”.

Frustrated by McClellan unwillingness to attack, Abraham Lincoln recalled him to to Washington with the words: “My dear McClellan: If you don’t want to use the Army I should like to borrow it for a while.” On 7th November Lincoln removed McClellan from all commands and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside.

Throughout the autumn of 1862 the Confederate Army continued to make progress in Kentucky. However, in September, General E. Kirby Smith was halted by Union troops led by General Don Carlos Buell in Covington. The following month General Braxton Bragg installed a Confederate government in Frankfort, Kentucky. However, this was short-lived and on 8th October, 1862, Bragg came under attack atPerryville (Chaplin Hills). During the battle Don Carlos Buell lost 4,211 men (845 killed, 2,851 wounded, and 515 missing) whereas Braxton Bragg lost 3,396 (510 killed, 2635 wounded and 251 missing). After the battle Bragg was forced to retreat back to Tennessee.

General Ambrose Burnside had replaced George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac on 7th November, 1862. After complaints that had been made by President Abraham Lincoln and the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, about the inaction of the Union Army, Burnside was determined to immediately launch an attack on the Confederate Army.

With a force of 122,000, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, Edwin Sumner, William Franklin attacked General Robert E. Lee and his army of 78,500, at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on 13th December. Sharpshooters based in the town initially delayed the Union Army from building a pontoon bridge across the Rappahnnock River.

After clearing out the snipers the federal forces had the problem of mounting frontal assaults against troops commanded by James Longstreet. At the end of the day the Union Army had 12,700 men killed or wounded. The well protected Confederate Army suffered losses of 5,300. Ambrose Burnside wanted to renew the attack the following morning but was talked out of it by his commanders.

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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 18 December 2016

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