War among the States
The civil war that broke out was often referred to,
pathetically, as a war of brother against brother.
Although many families counted relatives on opposite sides
of a shifting three-thousand miles of hostile confrontation,
few families were cross-cultured, North and South.
The war in general was between free and slave cultures,
that had been separated to begin with by different sorts of
immigrants, by persons coming from different regions of
the British Isles and the European Continent, and by two
centuries of contrasting forms of development.
The armies of the South, especially of the upper west, were more
representative of rural Anglo-Celtic elements;
they behaved or tried to behave as warriors out of a
romantic historical novel of Sir Walter Scott,
an immensely popular author of the time. The Northern
armies groped for a contrasting ideal, the new army of Prussia,
as a model, bureaucratic in structure, of interchangeable humans,
with God marching along in His proper order.
There were two ways of looking at Prussia;
from the planters' perspective, they were the junkers who
provided the high officers corps; and, while some
of these American junkers failed, and many died,
their overall performance was excellent, such that the
calamitous end of the war did not dislodge them
as the ruling class.
Furthermore, one may ask, if the two sides were brothers,
why had the two denominations whose aim
had been to make much of the fraternity
of all humans, the Baptists and the Methodists, split
unfraternally fifteen years earlier into
Northern and Southern denominations? For that matter,
why was not the question of fratricide raised when
three million German-American and Italian-American
soldiers, not to mention the Japanese-Americans of the
Army's most decorated unit, fought against their
fully civilized counterparts in World War II?
A matter of their having voluntarily separated themselves
from the Old Country many years before, one might say:
except that the Southerners were doing precisely that,
separating themselves from the Old Country, in the only way
anybody knew how, forcefully if needs be.
Anyhow, civil or fraternal conflicts have been long infamous as
exceedingly bloody -- if not the Revolutionary War where the
Loyalists fled or were miserably imprisoned or joined the British
ranks, then the English Civil War of the mid-1600's,
the War of the Roses, the French Revolution, and
all the ancient and modern cases, of ancient Rome,
the Russian Civil War between Reds and Whites,
1918 to 1923, the Spanish Civil War
of the 1930's, the Chinese Civil War of the 1940's,
the Cambodian Civil War of the 1970's, and so on,
down to the Bosnian fraternal carnage of the 1990's,
where the largest visible difference between
the three peoples was that some of the Croatians were dedicated
Catholics, some of the Serbs dedicated Orthodox,
and some of the dedicated Bosnians Islamic; this was enough for
Serbian political gangsters to begin their massacres.
A prime case of fraternal conflict would be the Lincoln
household itself, where Mary Todd Lincoln, the President's wife,
had a brother and several other close relatives in Confederate ranks.
There were those who suspected that she may have influenced the President
to be accommodating and lenient with the Southern cause.
She was so often nagging the President, however, that
one would hardly have been able to tell the ideological
quarrel from a household one.
In the broadest sense, a cultural overlap existed
in the border regions: here men were brought into conflict
who looked, acted, and talked like they might be related.
In a civil war, borders are always important for this reason, and
there were valid economic reasons for
the border to cut both ways here. The border states
happened not to be suitable for plantation agriculture,
hence had fewer slaves, and the people of the border
states had that free-flowing Celtic element in disproportion and
these, whether they believed in slavery or not,
were psychologically unequipped to develop a slave culture.
There were, we recall, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland and Delaware
(with West Virginia to become a state in 1863).
They tended toward neutrality, but in the end,
after it was obvious who would win, they abolished
slavery, or accepted the Thirteenth Amendment that towards the end
of the War abolished slavery everywhere in the United States.
They did not become the centers of conflict, such as
border areas often do in civil wars, but
at least Kentucky and Missouri saw a great many skirmishes.
Centers of the struggle were a limited area South and
West of Washington, D.C., and the Tennessee and
Lower Mississippi River valleys. Much is made of
Sherman's March from Tennessee down through Atlanta
and thence to the Sea. It was, however, a contretemps.
The war had already been won in effect, and while he
was cutting a swath of destruction, dragging the enfeebled armies of
Hood and Johnston behind him, the decisive action South of
Washington had turned into a chess game in which the King
(read the Northern Army of Virginia of General Lee)
was trying to avoid entrapment and checkmate by the powerful
ever-enhancing pieces of General Ulysses S. Grant.
In addition to these theaters, there was the sea blockade and the
early cleanup of the far Southwest. Strangely there, not even Texas
caused grave problems. There were already many Northerners on
location, and nationalist German-Americans in the crucial Southeast,
who remained loyal. Within the year, Federal troops
were in charge in Texas, in New Mexico Territory and in
California. Utah was never in doubt, nor any other territory except
Oklahoma, still the center of the civilized tribes
removed from the Southeast.
Here the Cherokees, instead of turning now against the people who
had persecuted them, robbed them of their land and almost
exterminated them, they actually joined the Confederacy as an ally.
And held on to their few slaves. Indeed the last active command of
the Confederacy in the Civil War was a Cherokee troop. The
Cherokees suffered in the end: they were cheated, and their lands
dismembered once more, with rather less sympathy from the North
than they might otherwise have enjoyed.
The war itself took four years, in a formal sense. In a real sense, it
took 145 years, or even only two years, depending on other points of
view. For two years of the formal war (beginning with the
declaration of the blockade of Confederate ports according to
international law in April 1961 and ending with the battle of
Gettysburg in July of 1863) the outcome was less certainly a Union
victory, and therefore could be called the determining warfare. The
second two years of the war were "unnecessary," but typical: a
period of destruction, heavy casualties, often slaughters, of mass
desertions and collapsing opposition, all of which
takes much time to come about.
Resources -- usually one need not bother with the
campaigns, as thrilling as they may be to inveterate veterans - were the
critical measure of the future of the bellicose.
The North contained two-and-a-half times the population
of the South, 22 millions to nine,
and 3.5 million Southerners were slaves.
It would be wrong to deduct the slaves from the active belligerent
population. They were an enormous resource for the South,
probably more so than if they had been free Whites. They could be
worked without relief and pay, fed the minimum for survival --
men, women and children. They had no rights. They could not quit.
They could not go West or back to the Old Country. They took up
many of the tasks that uniformed troops performed in the Union
Army. They could do everything but possess and use weapons; yet
they could make and repair them. It was feared that, given weapons,
they would turn them against the Caucasian Confederates.
As the war ended, the Confederate government was about to draft
African-Africans into the Confederate Army, assuring them of
emancipation when and if the war were won. It was a bad bargain,
but a shrieking irony. In the North, after considerable delay, units
of Afro-Americans were formed, more and more then, until they
composed about ten percent of the huge Union forces. In battle or
when captured, they suffered more from ill-treatment, murder and
massacre than ordinary White troops.
The Confederacy produced less than a tenth of the goods put out by
Northern manufactures. This included firearms and all of the
equipment of war. The only large heavy industry was the Tredegar
Iron Works, located at Richmond, Virginia, one more reason for
fighting desperately to hold onto the Capital. Leather goods were
almost exclusively Northern manufactures. The advantage in coal
mining was 38 to 1.
The transportation system of the North was much superior. Its
railroads held over twice the track and were more standardized. The
one trans-Confederacy route that existed carried various lines to
Chattanooga, Tennessee, from where the line arrived finally at
Memphis. The North had two cross-national railroad lines; it could
do without the Mississippi to get its goods overseas; it also had the
canal system for the same, of course.
Used to the absolute necessity of industrial comparability in
twentieth century wars, we are inclined to overestimate the value of
heavier production to warfare in 1860. Aside from the railroad, we
were still in the age of the horse and wagon, and inestimable mule.
Ten thousand slaves knew how to cut leather into shoes. The
plantation in some ways was a perfect decentralized factory for men
and materiel useful in the warfare of the age.
The average Northern soldier was more handy than the average of the
South, more used to machines, gears, variegated work procedures.
The Southerner was more likely to pride himself on his mastery of the
rifle, and it may be supposed that many a poor man volunteered so as
to have a rifle that he could call his own, with plenty of free
ammunition. The will to fight and attack is probably associated with
the strong individualist and a rough breeding; it would be the Southern
rank and file who would be more likely,
in most types of engagements, to have this quality.
On the sea the Northerners had a numerical superiority of seafarers;
the navy went Federal, officers and men, and throughout the
war had a ten-to-one superiority in gunboats.
The Confederates took over and transformed the ship Merrimac into
the Virginia, plated it heavily, and proceeded to destroy numbers of
Federal ships. A conveniently invented, smaller but heavily armed,
iron Federal ship, called the Monitor, arrived propitiously from
New York and took on the Virginia off Newport News, Virginia.
More balls bounced off the Monitor than the Merrimac, and the
latter withdrew from action permanently.
Confederate raiders did great damage, the average kill per boat
before capture or the end of the war being a score and more of
Union vessels. Worse was promised; like the Germans with their V-1
and V-2 rockets in World War II, the Confederates had a secret
weapon, ironclad warships reinforced to ram enemy ships. But the
British government, sensing the end, perfidiously delayed deliveries
from the shipyards where they were being built, and the
ships never saw action.
The Federal Navy performed notable feats,
an amphibious landing at Roanoke, for instance,
involving close coordination of bombardment
and ferrying assault troops to the beaches. Navy barges and
gunboats were put to good use, ferrying troops
down the Potomac and up the James River,
back and forth on the Ohio and Mississippi, blasting
Confederate shore positions and troop concentrations on various
occasions. Admiral Farragut's invasion of the Mississippi delta,
his capture of New Orleans, and his juncture with the Army
to the North, with minimal casualties, was a model
naval operation. Indeed the Navy had all of
its missions in hand, if not completed,
before a year was out!
Neither side could maintain a fully effective blockade.
By one ruse or another much cotton found its way
to Latin-American and European processors.
In the final analysis, the South was short of everything, but
not to the point of surrender on that account.
On the other hand, the blockade also kept large
Southern forces tied up at its major seaports,
for if they were withdrawn, an attack from the
sea might take and hold the ports.
Technology of warfare was changing, but not so much that
either side could find a definitive advantage in it.
Before the War and during it, cannon barrels
came to be rifled for accuracy in spinning the
ball to its target, and were loaded at the breech instead
of the muzzle. Rifles replaced muskets. The Winchester
repeating carbine of 1861 and an improved
French-designed bullet added to the deadliness of the firearm.
Trenches -- a cowardly invention by Waterloo standards of courage --
had been used by Americans to good effect in the Revolution and
1812. They were employed regularly in the Civil War, and
where not employed -- as General Grant failed to do at Shiloh --
more severe losses occurred. The Gatling gun,
a very slow machine-gun, came into use.
Wire entanglements proved serviceable.
Mining behind enemy positions was sometimes
attempted; the most notable effort in the last days of
the war was a large Union tunnel, blasting out
into a large crater; but, without a properly prepared
follow-through, the operation ended in heavy Union casualties.
Observation balloons, rising by letting the hot air f
rom a transported fire fill a cloth envelope,
proved useful for scouting and targeting.
Of horses, mules, and wagons there was aplenty.
And now there were available everywhere the telegraph wire and
the telegraph transmitter; the Civil War, fought upon one
of the largest of historical terrains, had the best communication
facilities for coordinating elements of any army
until that time.
The South was more combat-ready. Its population was
closer to the ordinary instruments of violence
in its very "backwardness." And it pulled out of the
Federal ranks the largest number of competent
Army officers. Even in sheer numbers of officers,
the South came first: it had a number of military
academies, more than the North.
General Robert E. Lee comes readily to mind,
West Point graduate like many others,
the Lieutenant Colonel who led the capture of the John Brown
conspirators, affectionate son of Virginia who turned
her way when the decision had to be made,
violating his oath to the Constitution incidentally.
Isn't one officer as good as another?
One is tempted to guess so, at least on the average.
And, as I shall be mentioning shortly, the best
officers, by reputation, made terrible blunders.
However, the greatness of command lies largely in the organization,
training, logistics, and morale functions of leadership.
Generalship in the field is the tool of the preparatory phases.
The use of the word "brilliant" is almost always excessive.
There are only several basic precepts of military strategy.
All kinds of folk wisdom of statesmen and military men
may be alluded to and have value --
"Git ther fustest with the mustest," is one,
attributable to a Confederate general.
There is the choice of an offensive strategy or a defensive one.
There are the overall assignments and divisions of troops.
There is the choice of fighting in depth or at a line of battle.
There is the choice of introducing one or more points of confrontation.
There is the choice of placing greater or lesser reliance upon
artillery as opposed to infantry,
of cavalry as opposed to these other two arms.
Lincoln was no warrior, nor even a proven officer.
His experience as a Captain of Illinois militia in the Blackhawk
Indian War was negligible, if not downright harmful.
He was not aggressive, atypically, while many of his associates,
appointees, and generals were typically so. He was not
a rabble-rouser. He was not an accountant of funds,
and letmuch corruption pass.
He appeared to be giving many commands, but hardly did so.
It is to his credit that most of his commands were versions of
O.K., or, "Git goin'!" He rarely needed to say "Go slower."
He appointed and removed generals -- McClelland, Burnside,
Pope, et al. -- usually without success.
He finally appointed Grant, say the books, but Grant
was already sticking out like a sore thumb, and perhaps Grant the
General was not so great as historiography
has made him out to be.
Lincoln did not panic, given many occasions to do so.
He was a morose man, given to mourning rather
than rage when disappointed. He did not fire
people right and left, when he had ample excuse to do so --
fortunately, for this would have enhanced the already dizzying
confusion. He was responsible in his speech, not a fire-eater, not a
bombaster, but measured, sensible, and full of political cunning.
His principal fault was his misinterpretation of
the will of the Southern, elite and Whites generally.
He misinterpreted it before the War began,
during the War itself, and in his plans for the
Reconstruction following the war. His character, more Southern
than Northern, led him to sympathize with typical Southern ideas.
He demanded much of himself, yet did not ask for
too much for himself, and he did not expect or ask
too much of other people, which was on occasion a mistake.
He sympathized with the slaves, but did not expect
much of them, whether as slaves or as free men.
Emancipation of the slaves possessed the
double-edged quality of several basic war issues.
The abolitionists pressed to free all slaves
within Federal jurisdiction in the border states or conquered areas
immediately, and the rest upon liberating the South.
Practical arguments for abolition were strong too.
If liberation came now, it would not be a problem for
post-war governments -- not that so many people thought ahead.
If liberated, the free Blacks and the Blacks still in slavery would aid
the Union cause in every possible way. Recruitment of Negro
soldiers would increase greatly. Handling the increasing numbers of
slaves entering Union lines would be eased: they would be inducted
into the armed forces. Abroad, sympathy and aid to the Union cause
would be forthcoming, whereas the South would be put
ever more on the moral defensive.
On the other hand, Lincoln and the Republicans had promised
that this would not be a war against slavery, where it already existed.
They felt even now in the middle of the war that
emancipation would alienate supporters in the
existing slave states of the Union, would anger the
South to fight ever harder, and would meet with resistance
among the millions of racists in the Northern population and
Union army. It was widely believed, and was probably true, that
most Northerners and soldiers were racist,
who were projecting blame upon Afro-Americans
for causing them moral and mental confusion.
Nevertheless Lincoln felt that there could be no
ultimate resolution of the problem of unity without
emancipation and that the end of the war
would be hastened by it: so, after a trial balloon
announcing the intention of the government, he issued
on January 1, 1863 the "Emancipation Proclamation,"
as people came to call it.
Despite votes by Congress in 1862, abolishing territorial and
District of Columbia slavery and declaring free the slaves of all
Confederates, Lincoln had sought a long-term liberating arrangement,
with compensation. His Proclamation freed,
on grounds of military necessity, all slaves in rebel areas.
This was a clear seizure of power as military commander,
such that the Constitution, already buffeted by
non-constitutional Reality, could barely endure.
Not until December of 1865 were
slavery and involuntary servitude abolished throughout the
whole of the United States, and then by virtue of the
Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Once more here, the Confederate States,
who were fictionally determined never to have left the Union,
were deprived of a voice.
It was enthusiastically welcomed abroad, where even intellectuals
and officials assumed it meant all slaves were henceforth to be free.
Abolitionists approved it, but felt it did not go far enough. Southerners
surprisingly were rather apathetic to the report; it was
not worse than they had expected all along and they were numb with
the costs of the war.
Yankee soldiers were divided among practical enthusiasts,
approving abolitionists, the great number who were apathetic,
and those who disliked having brought liberty to the slaves
while they themselves faced nothing soon but more suffering.
The troops would discover that freeing the slaves as they went along
would be a pleasure, both for the exhilarating
power of releasing people and from the discomfiture
of enemy soldiers and civilians. They could also put
the former slaves to work, as compulsory
volunteers for the Union.
Lincoln's perpetual stress was on Union, but why he,
who had been a congressman opposed to the Mexican War
(and was subsequently defeated for this reason)
should have such strong feelings is not easy to understand
(and a later strongly nationalist scholarhood
took the strength of his feeling for granted). It may have
arisen out of his border state origins:
in history, sociologically marginal border regions
have produced a disproportionate share of
intense nationalists and nationalist leaders.
(Napoleon a Corsican, Hitler an Austrian, Stalin
a Georgian, for example.)
When the fighting began, both sides asked for volunteers, and the
response on both sides was excellent.
The new men and the militias called to arms promptly gave
the conflict the proportions of a large war by historical
standards, comparable to the armies who fought the
wars of Napoleon. Photography was just maturing into an art form,
and we have thousands of photographs of the soldiers in camps
on both sides, at the road en marche, at the line of combat,
and especially on the ground dead, an effect occasioned so often
because the subjects of the camera had to take a
long deep breath and remain still.
The strategy of the North and South might have pleased Leo Tolstoi,
who had served in the Crimean War a few years earlier and was
writing his novel, War and Peace. He found that generals had very
little to say about the course of large historical events, but
capered pretentiously atop a mass of hard facts;
these small facts it was that composed destiny
by solidifying into some collective form.
Where could the South have chosen to fight?
If it marched West, it would promptly lose its
most symbolic, progressive and rich area,
the Virginia complex. It would give up half of its traditions,
practically the same as losing the war then and there.
If it put too much into the Eastern theater,
it would lose the great cotton kingdoms and
combative populations of the West.
So it had to fight both East and west.
Its sea strategy I have already referred to: it was foreordained also.
Its border strategy had to be simply to cause as much destruction of
property and communications as possible, to try also by terrorism or
harassment generally to get the border populations to demand peace.
Many ambushes and much raiding went on in divided Kentucky and
Missouri. William Quantrell's guerillas, with Jesse and Frank James
and the Younger boys, committed hundreds, if not thousands, of
murders in Missouri, and ravaged and looted large areas. The Kansas
Territory was brutalized. The level of suspicion was at the paranoiac
stage everywhere. Countless slaves were tortured and killed on any
evidence that they were considering action against the
Confederacy or for freedom.
General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Northern border areas,
decided that Jews were a threat and issued an order to expel them.
This incredible action, soon rescinded by Lincoln, was to be
repeated against the Japanese-Americans in World War II, and was
not to be rescinded by President Roosevelt, or even officially regretted
until long after that war.
Grant, emerging from a history of alcoholism, was also prone to
paranoia. His case was not as bad as General William Tecumseh
Sherman's. Sherman went into profound depressions and was
convinced that the Washington crowd was out to get him, although
he had a faithful brother high in the administration there, and a wife
who was a skillful saleswoman of his abilities.
When assigned a command in Kentucky, he was seized by a totally
illusory notion of the huge size of the opposing forces. He was
plagued by as many self-doubts as Lincoln. He dwelt continually
upon the idea of resigning.
What seems ultimately to have happened psychologically
is that Sherman was seized with a hatred for the enemy and
focused his more than ample punishing instincts upon
the Confederates; later on in life, he would be hunting Indians and
buffalo herds with the same venom.
The North had the same border policies as the South.
Moreover, it had little choice but to engage the enemy in
the area of the Potomac and Northern Virginia.
Washington may have been only a detail of the national industrial,
transportation, communications, and manpower
network, but London, Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City would regard
its loss as most damaging and might even recognize and lend aid to the
Southern Confederacy as a result.
(As it was, the Confederacy appeared imposing
enough to elicit the status of a belligerent from
France and Britain, enabling its vessels, material possessions, and
personnel to be treated as the belongings of a respectable nation;
not enough is made of this fact by historians, who consider it
non-American and therefore not part of the war,
whereas it was just about the only thing the Confederacy
could hang onto in the external world.)
So Washington had to be held and Richmond assaulted.
Early voices were prophesying a quick Union victory, but the Battle of
Bull Run in July of 1861 ended in a disgraceful rout of the Federal
forces. A succession of bitter battles grew in bloodiness and
indecisiveness: the Peninsular Campaign; another second Bull Run;
Antietam Creek (in Maryland), Fredericksburg (Virginia), and
Chancellorsville (Virginia), this last fought in May of 1863.
The stage was set for Gettysburg.
Meanwhile, to the North and West, control of the rivers had to be
denied the South, and its only major railroad line cut. So it was
thought, and two years were occupied in doing so. It is permissible to
challenge this notion. Suppose the North had decided to hold fast on
the North side of the Ohio River and the West side of the Mississippi.
Small armies would have been detailed to defend
critical points and even to behave aggressively wherever men and
resources permitted. The powerful and loyal Navy would help.
The Confederate armies could not have proceeded across the Rivers,
at least not where they would have liked to cross, at the industrial
ports of Ohio, for example. Then the North could have assembled
overwhelming force at the decisive point where the Confederacy
would have to make or break, the Northern Virginia sector. The South
would have had to march most of their forces from the
West to the smaller region of the East where their
provisioning would have been difficult.
Meanwhile out of Southern Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Union
could have launched an enormous flanking attack, sufficient to turn
the whole South around into the Northern Virginia area, at the same
time as the Northern armies out of Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore
would have descended upon the main body of Confederate troops,
the Army of Northern Virginia.
Actually something like this happened in the end. Larger Union armies
than necessary were deployed into the Tennessee River and Mississippi
Valleys, moved down and up, converging upon Vicksburg on the
Mississippi, Memphis farther upstream, and
Chattanooga. All this done, at considerable cost to both sides in a
dozen major engagements, General Tecumseh Sherman was
unleashed to march obliquely Southeast from Chattanooga
following the railroad trunk line to Atlanta, Georgia,
and from there to Savannah by the sea.
John Bell Hood, the Confederate choice to block all of this,
stormed into several battles, each time being repulsed,
while the Federals marched on, and on, toward the sea,
destroying everything in their path.
General Ulysses S. Grant and his generals of the Western Theater had
been circling about and conducting the costly but eventually successful
battles that left the Confederates with a force inadequate to cope with
Sherman's army. Grant's bulldog disposition attracted Lincoln who
brought him to lead the Army of the Potomac.
Here the Union might earlier have won the war on several
occasions, but had failed owing to the inflexible, slow, and bungling
tactics of its generals and the resourceful and rapid responses of the
Confederate generals. At one point, Lincoln had wondered whether
he should not bring in somebody like Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was
terrifically popular at the time in London and New England liberal
and abolitionist circles for his daring liberation of Sicily and Naples
and his dashing republican confrontation of nobility and Papacy in
Italy; but Garibaldi wanted the major command, not a simple
generalship, and nothing happened.
However, Grant did inherit a severely wounded adversary.
Lee's army had been severely damaged by a foolish
expedition into the North. It was part of
the impossible options of the Confederates.
The Union could hold out and build up as long as the Confederates
stayed on the defensive. It was highly questionable
whether they could command the thrust to
go on the offensive in the North.
But go they did and the result was shameful. I speak of Gettysburg.
The Confederates attacked in an area where the attack was brought
on frivolously, by mistake, by a group of marauding soldiers who
needed shoes. They attacked a larger army, under the command of
Meade. At a critical juncture, their best troops, a division led by
General Pickett, were ordered by Lee into an impossible attack
against entrenched Federal troops on a hill. The kind of reserves that
Lee needed to follow up Pickett's charge were not available,
supposing the charge to have succeeded. It did not. And Lee
retreated from Pennsylvania into Virginia.
One has to surmise that, facing the general election of the
Confederate legislature, dreading the thought of retreating after so
short a sojourn on Northern soil, he took an inexcusable gamble.
His foolhardy venture provided a convenient
"turning point of the War," such as historians
are prone to seek. It might have been nearer the end if
General Meade had followed in hot pursuit.
But he was like the rest of them; he was afflicted,
in Lincoln's phrase, with "the slows."
Common soldiers of the Union Army of the Potomac
knew well the string of slow-paced loggy generals
and even sang appropriate songs,
General Meade, a slow old plug,
for he let them away at Gettysburg,
and we'll all drink stone-blind,
Johnny, fill the bowl.
It was at Gettysburg, to commemorate the prodigious sacrifice there,
that Lincoln delivered the address which half a billion American
schoolchildren had to memorize later on, a mercifully
brief, elegantly styled, and simple moving
statement culminating in the prayer that there should not
perish from the Earth this "government of the people,
by the people, and for the people"
(an expression heard for the first time from the lips of the radical
French Revolutionary leader, Georges Danton,
guillotined in 1794:
"gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple, pour le peuple,"
and picked up by New England radicals.)
Now Grant enters upon the scene in the East. He had done well
usually; he had escaped near disaster from his own incompetence at
Shiloh, where by acting aggressively after having been unnecessarily
surprised, he avoided having his heavy losses counted as a defeat. He
had seemed to perform brilliantly at the relief of Chattanooga; there his
troops, sitting at the foot of Missionary Ridge, were exposed to
cannon fire from above; instinctively they climbed to get below the
angle of fire of the cannon and kept on going; when the Confederates
saw the advancing lines, they panicked.
The battle was won.
Lincoln believed that Grant's genius was confirmed and brought him
East to put an end to Lee. Probably (his Secretary is the source)
Lincoln noticed Grant's willingness to accept disproportionately high
casualties to come to grips with the outnumbered enemy. After Meade
failed to take the losses of close pursuit on top of
the heavy casualties of Gettysburg, Lincoln calculated
that the losses through disease over a lengthy period without
engagement were heavier than the losses in even the heaviest battle.
Grant did slog on, in his imitable fashion,
employing the greater weight of his armies to push
incessantly, never too fast, never too slow.
Subjecting his soldiers to great losses, over 60,000 in a month at the
Wilderness Battle, at Spotsylvania Court House, at Cold Harbor, he
nevertheless ordered his army on -- he had begun with a two-to-one
advantage in numbers -- so he could not be said to have lost a battle.
In this manner he rounded Richmond and came before the railroad
junction of Petersburg.
A small Confederate army moved in to defend the site, led by
Beauregard. Instead of using his overwhelming force to break the
siege, or cut around it to Richmond directly, Grant, the indomitable
irresistible mover of armies, lay there encamped from June to April.
Why would he have ground up his men in such a slaughtering in the
weeks beforehand, if it were only in order to
sit before a railroad junction?
One must conclude that Lincoln, the poor judge of men, had made
another misjudgement; but the North simply had too many things
going for it to lose.
The siege was conducted along extended lines of many miles above
and below the junction. Knowing that Lee could not match his
manpower, Grant pushed the tentacle of his left flank westward,
farther and farther. Encirclement of the whole Southern army was
threatened. Far to the West and through the Shenandoah Valley and
then out upon the Eastern plain went Union General Philip Sheridan,
capturing one after another town, forbidding supplies to the
main Confederate army.
To the far South, Sherman had taken Charleston, and defeated an
attempt by the depleted army of Joseph E. Johnston to stop him at
Bentonville in central North Carolina.
It was time for Lee to abandon the Confederate capital to its fate.
He escaped from the Petersburg siege, and headed South thinking
possibly to join up with Johnston's remaining forces. However,
Sheridan had cut East and barred his escape.
The Confederate leadership gave consideration to carrying on
a guerrilla war, but, imagining the characters who would
turn up to lead the bands around the country,
men like the notoriously evil Quantrell,
they decided to surrender like gentlemen. Lee,
dressed in his best dress uniform, met
slovenly Grant at a private home in Appomattox,
and on April 9, 1865 yielded
his Army of Northern Virginia to Grant.
His principal request, and he was lucky to have it granted, was that
his men be allowed to keep their private horses and mules, and the
officers their sidearms. Remaining Confederate forces soon followed
suit South and West. The formal Civil War was over. The freed
African-Americans didn't do as well as the surrendering enemy;
they had not horse nor mule, neither sidearms.
The attention to casualties in the Civil War is excessive and comes
because of their naturally gruesome quality, exhibited in many striking
photographs, and because people have too few explanations otherwise
for victory and defeat. It is known that the Confederates lost about
100,000 soldiers in combat (including amicide or "friendly fire" such as
caught their second greatest general "Stonewall Jackson"), a rate of
25,000 a year, quite bearable for a nation of nine millions; they lost
another 150,000 men owing to the diseases that plagued an army.
The typical hospital killed the wounded and sick more than cured
them; there was one private hospital owned and superintended by a
woman, Confederate Sally Tomkins of Richmond, where the death
rate was several times lower than in the typical military hospital.
The same miserable hospitalling was true of the North; personnel
tried to discourage poet Walt Whitman's volunteer nursing because
he might go public with revelations of the care they were providing.
Confederate military strength was officially 326,768 men in
December 1861; the peak number was 473,058 in June 1863 (a
month before Gettysburg). It still counted 358,692 in December of
1864. But these were men listed as enrolled. Many were absent
without leave, actually deserters. The desertion rate in the first
instance was 20%, on the latter two occasions
between 40% and 53%.
The picture is clear: the Confederates had a large-enough military
manpower potential. But the actual size of the army was determined
by hundreds of thousands of individual soldiers; they voted with
their feet. It was they, not General Lee or General Grant, who
determined that the war was over.
The Union troops suffered much heavier casualties. They lost
200,000 in combat, and the same proportion through disease.
Combat losses tend to be greater with an attacking army, and the
Union Army was dedicated to an offensive strategy. As I indicated
earlier, about half of these losses, not nearly so many among the
Confederates, came in the course of rash charges.
Nine out of ten frontal assaults brought defeat, a break and retreat --
on whichever side charged. The same schoolboys and poolroom
habitués who had hooted and howled at General Pekingham's
disastrous charge at New Orleans now found themselves marching
across killing fields just as bad. The bayonet was rarely used except
to cut bread and scrape mud off boots. We were already in an age of
massed firepower. All that was needed to murder a great many more
men was the machine gun.
The home fronts were often troubled. Riots, particularly in
connection with the forced conscription of soldiers, occurred in
many cities. Richmond also saw food riots. During the four years of
organized and border warfare, there had of course existed two
nations to lead and administer, insofar as either was possible.
Southerners found themselves with a government whose devotion to
slavery and states rights could not be gainsaid. It was a one-party
government, whereas the North operated with a coalition
government of Republicans and Democrats.
The Confederate Government found itself with pressing needs to
behave out of form: it impressed labor, conscripted soldiers, suspended
the writ of habeas corpus, and would have liked to compel the states
to pay their badly needed assessments but could
not. It issued vast quantities of currencies that came to be worthless.
It borrowed all the money and obtained all the credits it could, but
these were hardly sufficient and of course in the end it could neither
back its paper currency or pay its debts.
Inasmuch as the South fought the war as a congeries of state "clans,"
the independent states, the source of morale lay in states
individually rather than in the total vision of a central union. There
was no great abstraction like the United States of America that
claimed the allegiance of men from Vermont and Iowa alike.
Southern soldiers therefore referred morale questions to their
buddies or to their own personal State. They judged fairly well the
situation. Whenever there was a defeat, the desertion rate, always
high, went up even more. During the last year of the War, over half the
soldiers had decided to call it quits on their own part and
deserted (telling themselves that they were on leave, of course). The
Federals suffered, not so severely, from their own desertions.
Both sides contained numerous disloyal citizens. In booming
Chicago, early in the War, there was a fear that the city would be
taken over by Confederate sympathizers. Several associations of
friends of the Union carried on secret activities to end the war, or
even to slow the war effort. Almost no measure was taken on either
side but that excited strong opposition.
The draft riots of New York City in 1863 turned out to be a racist
riot against the free Blacks of the city, more than being a riot against
conscription. Hundreds of civilians were killed by the rioters and by
the militia and Federal troops sent specially into the city to quell the
disturbances. Irish Catholic elements, now prominent in New York,
and still laboring under the cruelest economic disadvantages,
rampaged against the African-Americans, poorest of workers, yet
competitive with the Irish.
No deaths are recorded among the rich of the city, some of the most
distinguished names of Wall Street and monopoly industry, who
could pay the pittance for substitute soldiers. They played it safe,
and their names adorn some of the most distinguished university
buildings, corporation headquarters, and foundations of the land.
The Union soldiers had much to complain about in the conduct of the
civilians back home. As many new farms were planted during the war
as there were casualties. The military suppliers all too often sold
shoddy goods and rotten food to the Army, and the corrupt on the
outside found their counterparts in uniform or as civilian officials. In
one famous case, J. P. Morgan, an English immigrant of a rich English
father who was backing his banking company in the United States, was
party to a deal whereby the Army had sold a batch of defective guns at
$17, 486 to the same persons to whom it had promised to buy the
same guns the day before for $109,912.
The Secretary of War, a kindly Scot named Simon Cameron, proved
to be the ringleader of the largest corrupt gang of the war. He had
been a prime operator in Pennsylvania politics and had bought a
Senate seat before joining the Lincoln Administration. Lincoln could
not like him but tolerated him, while the man was dispensing
incredible bargains to his railroading friends and giving agents funds
to buy supplies for the Army as they pleased. He had cost the
government millions and killed a few soldiers indirectly by the time
Lincoln had him resign and accept nomination as
Minister to Russia in January 1862.
Politics during the War were as dirty as beforehand. The Union
coalition of Lincoln did not drive the Democrats out of business; there
would be soon another party, essentially of Democrats. Peace
Democrats were especially active in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, most of
them of Southern lineage from the Ohio River area. They called him
"King Abraham" and he and his friends called them "Copperheads."
The peace party had an imposing candidate, none other than General
McClelland, the quality of whose generalship was not indisputable.
He was a good organizer, and had in fact, after his early military
career, become a successful businessman before he was recalled to
serve the Union.
The political campaign was hardly ennobling. For
instance, two McClelland journalists published a campaign book
called "Miscegenation," that purported to be a Republican document
encouraging racial mixing as a Republican policy.
Presumably the "Peace Party" would be readier to grant the South easy
terms upon receipt of a pledge to return to the Union. But Lincoln was
not speaking of harsh terms either. It is remarkable that McClelland
did so well in the popular vote, gaining 45% to
Lincoln's 55%. The electoral vote was more disparate, as usual.
Obviously "Honest Abe" was not the idol of the people of the North,
never mind that he was the most hated man in the South.
If little positive were gained aside from Lincoln's re-election, there
was a loss in Lincoln's choice of Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, a
Unionist from Tennessee, a poor boy grown to hate Southern planters
as a class, but conservative in his social opinions and bereft
of education and culture.
A history of the Presidents could be written with reference to what
their choice of Vice-President shows about their inner character.
Lincoln gave out that he had picked him because he was pleasing to
the border interest, or so he thought. Johnson was also committed, like
Lincoln, to reconciliation between North and South, in this respect
being target of well-founded suspicions on the part of the hard-nosed
Republicans of the Joint Congressional Committees on the Conduct of
the War, who were getting ready to conduct the peace.
What happened in the Congress during the War in the way of civil
legislation gave proof positive that the United States had been
composed of two different nations: Congress passed most of the
legislation that had been controversial since the founding of the
republic! It could be seen now that the North and West composed a
Congress enacted a high protective tariff schedule,
twice what made South Carolina shout secession.
It established a National Bank and provided hard currency reforms
despite running up a large debt to carry on the war.
It passed the Morrill Land Grant Act that gave each state large
acreages, all proceeds from whose sale were to be used for setting
up agricultural and mechanical colleges around the nation.
It passed legislation (The Homestead Act) giving away 160-acre lots
to settlers who hung on for five years. (It soon worked to the
advantage of speculators, who dealt in the titles, once the farmers
failed, and to banks that lent capital for the enterprises.)
A great deal of land was given over to the capitalization of a
transcontinental railroad route from Omaha, Nebraska, to
With all this progress, one might think that they should have let the
South go its own way, but of course there had remained the overriding
issue of slavery.
There was great relief and happiness in the North upon the collapse of
the Confederacy. In the last months of the War, Tennessee and
Missouri abolished slavery. In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the
Constitution was adopted, abolishing slavery throughout the Union.
Only Kentucky and Delaware had remained to be
affected by the Amendment.
Now all the slaves were free and most people wished that they
would vanish into some sultry Southern back fields. Northerners
wanted to do even more business, without shame at the sacrifices
others were making. But the casualties of the war stayed with
people, as would the fate of the freed slaves.
The condition of the Southern veterans was bad, generally closer than
ever to the level of the former slave. The North was not ready to
spend any resources on their rehabilitation, a mistake to be sure, and
did not require that the Southern States take measures to help its
veterans. (Later on they would get some state help.)
The Northern veteran was another matter. Nothing was too good for
him, to hear the politicians and media talk. And, indeed, a system
of payments was begun that brought the equivalent of social welfare
payments to a large proportion of the Northern population, enabling
them, wrapped in the flag as patriots, to more comfortably oppose
the welfare needs of others.