The End of the Civil War

Grant’s Pursuit of Lee

General Grant’s Union Army pursued General Lee’s Confederate Army in the Overland Campaign, resulting in an important victory for the Union.

Learning Objectives

Describe Grant’s Overland Campaign in pursuit of Lee and the resulting Union victory

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Grant’s Overland Campaign was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864.
  • Important battles of the Overland Campaign included the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the Battle of North Anna, and the Battle of Cold Harbor; the campaign ended with the siege of Petersburg.
  • The Overland Campaign was the thrust necessary for the Union to win the war, and although Grant suffered a number of tactical defeats (most notably Cold Harbor), the campaign was a strategic success for the Union.

Key Terms

  • Robert E. Lee: (January 19, 1807– October, 12 1870) A career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War.
  • Ulysses S. Grant: (Born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822–July 23, 1885) The 18th president of the United States (1869–1877) following his dominant role in the second half of the Civil War.
  • Overland Campaign: A series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864, during the American Civil War; also known as “Grant’s Overland Campaign” and the “Wilderness Campaign.”

Grant’s Overland Campaign was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, directed the actions of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General George G. Meade, and other forces against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This was the first time the Union armies would have a coordinated offensive strategy across a number of theaters. Although previous Union campaigns in Virginia targeted the Confederate capital of Richmond as their primary objective, this time the goal was the destruction of Lee’s army. President Lincoln had long advocated this strategy for his generals, recognizing that the city would certainly fall after the loss of its principal defensive army.

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Pontoon bridge across the James River: This image show a pontoon bridge across the James River.

In March 1864, Grant was summoned from the western theater, promoted to lieutenant general, and given command of all Union armies. He chose to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, although Meade retained formal command of that army. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman succeeded Grant in command of most of the western armies. Grant and Lincoln devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions.

Despite Grant’s superior numbers, he had manpower challenges. Because he was operating on the offensive in enemy territory, Grant had to defend his supply lines; for this reason, Grant chose to rely on waterborne supply lines instead of the railroads in Virginia’s interior. Furthermore, because many of his soldiers’ three-year enlistments were about to expire, they were naturally reluctant to participate in dangerous assaults. To deal with these challenges, Grant supplemented his forces by reassigning soldiers manning the heavy artillery batteries around Washington, D.C., to infantry regiments.

Crossing the Rapidan River on May 4, 1864, Grant sought to defeat Lee’s army by quickly placing his forces between Lee and Richmond and inviting an open battle. Lee surprised Grant by attacking the larger Union Army aggressively in the Battle of the Wilderness, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. Grant did not withdraw his army following this setback, but instead maneuvered to the southeast, resuming his attempt to interpose his forces between Lee and Richmond. Lee’s army was able to get into position to block this movement. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Grant repeatedly attacked segments of the Confederate defensive line, hoping for a breakthrough, but the only results were again heavy losses for both sides.

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Grant’s Overland Campaign, May–June 1864: This map shows the Overland Campaign, from the Battle of the Wilderness to crossing the James River.

Grant maneuvered again, meeting Lee at the Battle of North Anna. Here, Lee had an opportunity to defeat portions of Grant’s army, but illness prevented Lee from attacking in time to trap Grant. The final major battle of the campaign was waged at Cold Harbor, where Grant gambled that Lee’s army was exhausted and ordered a massive assault against strong defensive positions, resulting in disproportionately heavy Union casualties. Maneuvering a final time, Grant surprised Lee by stealthily crossing the James River, threatening to capture the city of Petersburg, the loss of which would doom the Confederate capital.

After Lee learned that Grant had crossed the James, he realized that he would be forced into a siege of the capital city. Petersburg, a prosperous city of 18,000, was a supply center for Richmond, given its location just south of the capital, its site on the Appomattox River providing navigable access to the James River, and its role as a major junction for five railroads. The taking of Petersburg by Union forces would make it impossible for Lee to continue defending the Confederate capital. This represented a change of strategy from that of Grant’s Overland Campaign, in which confronting and defeating Lee’s army in the open was the primary goal. Now Grant selected a geographic and political target and knew that his superior resources could besiege Lee there, pin him down, and either starve him into submission or lure him out for a decisive battle. The resulting Siege of Petersburg from June 1864 to March 1865 led to the surrender of Lee’s army in April 1865 and the effective end of the Civil War.

The Overland Campaign was the thrust necessary for the Union to win the war, and although Grant suffered a number of tactical defeats (most notably Cold Harbor), the campaign was a strategic success for the Union. By engaging Lee’s forces and not permitting them to escape, Grant forced Lee into an untenable position. But this came at a high cost. The campaign was the bloodiest in American history: approximately 55,000 casualties on the Union side and 32,600 on the Confederate. It inflicted proportionately higher losses on Lee’s army and maneuvered it into a siege at Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, in just over eight weeks.

Sherman’s March

General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” Campaign inflicted significant damage to Southern industry, infrastructure, and civilian property.

Learning Objectives

Assess the objectives, pros, and cons of Sherman’s “March to the Sea”

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Some estimate that the damage from Sherman’s March reached $100 million, or about 1.378 billion in 2010 dollars.
  • The Union Army wrecked 300 miles of railroad and numerous bridges and miles of telegraph lines. It also seized 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, 13,000 head of cattle, 9.5 million pounds of corn, and 10.5 million pounds of fodder.
  • The campaign was similar to Grant’s innovative and successful Vicksburg Campaign in that Sherman’s armies reduced their need for traditional supply lines by “living off the land” after consuming their 20 days of rations.

Key Terms

  • William Tecumseh Sherman: (February 8, 1820–February 14, 1891) An American soldier, businessman, educator, and author. He served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and received recognition for outstanding command of military strategy as well as criticism for the harshness of the scorched earth policies he implemented.
  • scorched earth: A military strategy or operational method that involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area.
  • Sherman’s March: The name commonly given to the Savannah Campaign conducted through Georgia from November 15, 1864, to December 21, 1864, by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army in the American Civil War. The campaign began with Sherman’s troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta on November 16 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. It inflicted significant damage, particularly to industry and infrastructure (per the doctrine of total war), and also to civilian property.

Fall and Occupation of Atlanta

On September 1, 1864, Confederate forces evacuated Atlanta, and the following day, the city was officially surrendered to Union forces. Over those two days and nights, explosions and fires could be heard and seen across the city as 81 railcars filled with ammunition and Confederate military supplies were destroyed. By September 3, Union forces began moving into the city, and civilians were ordered to leave. Private homes were repurposed for federal use, adding to the stress felt across the local population as military control spread.

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Sherman’s men destroying railroad tracks. Atlanta, Georgia: Sherman’s men destroying a railroad in Atlanta.

Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant believed that the Civil War would end only if the Confederacy ‘s strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for warfare were decisively broken. Sherman therefore applied the principles of scorched earth throughout his successful Atlanta campaign from May to September of 1864; he ordered his troops to burn crops, kill livestock, and consume supplies. Finally he destroyed civilian infrastructure along his path of advance. The recent reelection of President Abraham Lincoln ensured that no short-term political pressure would restrain these tactics. Federal forces occupied Atlanta until November 15–16, when Sherman’s “March to the Sea” began.

The “March to the Sea”

Sherman’s “March to the Sea” is the name commonly given to the Savannah Campaign conducted around Georgia from November 15, 1864, to December 21, 1864, by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army. The campaign began with Sherman’s troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia, on November 16 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. It inflicted significant damage, particularly to industry and infrastructure.

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Sherman’s March to the Sea: This map shows the Savannah Campaign (Sherman’s March to the Sea) during the American Civil War.

The second objective of the campaign was more traditional. Grant’s armies in Virginia remained in a stalemate against Robert E. Lee’s army, besieged in Petersburg, Virginia. By moving in Lee’s rear and performing a massive turning movement against him, Sherman possibly could increase pressure on Lee, allowing Grant the opportunity to break through, or at least keep Southern reinforcements away from Virginia.

Scorched Earth and the Capture of Savannah

The campaign was similar to Grant’s innovative and successful Vicksburg Campaign in that Sherman’s armies reduced their need for traditional supply lines by “living off the land” after consuming their 20 days of rations. Foragers, known as “bummers,” provided food seized from local farms to soldiers while they destroyed the railroads, manufacturing, and agricultural infrastructure of Georgia. In planning for the march, Sherman used livestock and crop production data from the 1860 census to lead his troops through areas where he believed they would be able to forage most effectively.

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Sherman’s March: This engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie depicts Sherman’s March.

Sherman’s armies reached the outskirts of Savannah on December 10 but found 10,000 Confederate troops entrenched in good positions. The soldiers had flooded the surrounding rice fields, leaving only narrow causeways available to approach the city. Sherman was blocked from linking up with the U.S. Navy as he had planned, so he dispatched cavalry to Fort McAllister, guarding the Ogeechee River, in hopes of unblocking his route and obtaining the supplies that awaited him on the Navy ships. On December 13, troops stormed the fort in the Battle of Fort McAllister and captured it within 15 minutes. Now that Sherman had connected to the navy fleet he was able to obtain the supplies and siege artillery he required to invade Savannah.

After capturing Savannah, Sherman telegraphed to President Lincoln, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” On December 26, the president replied in a letter: “Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift—the capture of Savannah.” From Savannah, Sherman marched north in the spring through the Carolinas, intending to complete his turning movement and combine his armies with Grant’s against Lee. After a successful two-month campaign, Sherman accepted the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and his forces in North Carolina on April 26, 1865.

Sherman’s scorched earth policies remain highly controversial, and many Southerners have long reviled Sherman’s memory. Many slaves, however, welcomed him as a liberator and left their plantations to follow his armies. The March to the Sea was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million in damages, or about 1.378 billion in 2010 dollars.

Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox

Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, ending the fighting of the eastern theater and effectively ending the American Civil War.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the contributing factors to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the end of the Civil War

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • On May 10, 1865, Union cavalrymen captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The last land battle of the Civil War took place near Brownsville, Texas, on May 12, 1865.
  • The Cherokee Confederate Indians were the last significant Confederate active force to surrender on June 23, 1865.
  • The last Confederate surrender occurred on November 6, 1865, when the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah surrendered at Liverpool, England.
  • President Andrew Johnson formally declared the end of the war on August 20, 1866.

Key Terms

  • Appomattox: A town in Virginia that was the site of Confederate General Lee’s surrender to Union General Grant on April 9, 1865, essentially ending the American Civil War.
  • Robert E. Lee: (1807–1870) A career military officer who is best
    known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the
    American Civil War.
  • Jefferson Davis: (1808–1889) An American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as president of the Confederate States of America for its entire history.

The fighting of the eastern theater of the American Civil War between Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant ‘s Army of the Potomac and General Robert E. Lee ‘s Army of Northern Virginia ended with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Lee’s army had fought a series of battles in the Appomattox Campaign against Grant that ultimately stretched his lines of defense thin. His troops became exhausted defending this line because they were too spread out. Grant then took advantage of the situation and launched attacks on this 30-mile, poorly defended front.

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Appomattox Court House, VA. : Federal soldiers at the courthouse, April 1865.

At 8:30 a.m. the morning of April 9, Lee requested a meeting with Grant. Lee, rode into the little hamlet of Appomattox where the Appomattox county courthouse stood and waited for Grant’s arrival to surrender his army. The terms were as generous as Lee could hope for: His men would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason. In addition to his terms, Grant also allowed the defeated men to take home their horses and mules to carry out the spring planting, and provided Lee with a supply of food rations for his starving army, which Lee emphasized would have a favorable effect on the Confederate men and go great lengths toward reconciling the country. The terms of surrender were recorded in a document completed around 4 p.m. on April 9.

The second and last major stage in the peace-making process, concluding the American Civil War, was the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and his armies to Major General William T. Sherman on April 26, 1865, at Bennett Place. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee was among nearly 100,000 Confederate soldiers that were surrendered from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The conditions of surrender were laid out in a document called, “Terms of a Military Convention,” signed by Sherman, Johnston, and Grant at Raleigh, North Carolina.

Other Confederate generals surrendered in the following days and weeks as the news from Appomattox reached them. The last land battle of the Civil War took place near Brownsville, Texas, on May 12. The Cherokee Confederate Indians were the last significant Confederate active force to surrender on June 23. The last Confederate surrender occurred on November 6, 1865, when the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah surrendered at Liverpool, England. President Andrew Johnson formally declared the end of the war on August 20, 1866.

On May 10, 1865, Union cavalrymen captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis after he fled Richmond, Virginia, following its evacuation in the early part of April. On May 5, 1865, in Washington, Georgia, Davis held the last meeting of his cabinet. At that time, the Confederate government was declared dissolved. The Confederate president was subsequently held prisoner for two years in Fort Monroe, Virginia.

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A panoramic image of the parlor of the reconstructed McLean House in Appomattox Court House National Historical Park as seen in August 2011: McLean House was originally built by Charles Raine in 1848, and was the site of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to the Union Army on April 9, 1865. Ulysses S. Grant sat at the simple wooden table on the right while Robert E. Lee sat at the more ornate marble-topped table on the left.

The Second American Revolution

Many Confederate supporters viewed secession of the South as part of a larger tradition of American revolutionary ideals. Ironically, the greatest change to come as a result of the American Civil War that followed Southern secession was the end of slavery. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which established the freedom of slaves in the 10 states in rebellion. Then on December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, which officially outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude in all U.S. states and territories. Many historians now characterize the Civil War as a fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence’s promise that “all men are created equal.”

The Aftermath

The outcome of the Civil War had great implications not only for Southern society, but also for the Southern economy. The collapse of the plantation economy after the abolition of slavery and increase in world production of cotton as well as the increasing influence of Northern Republicans in Southern affairs led to greater industrialization, the rise of larger city centers, and the development of infrastructure such as railroads, banks, and factories. However, progress was slow in the wake of the destruction that war wrought. Three percent of the total United States population had been injured or killed during the Civil War, two-thirds of which were a direct result of disease. In fact, the Civil War resulted in approximately the same number of American deaths as all other U.S. wars combined to present day, making the period of Reconstruction that followed a remarkable yet often difficult chapter in American history.

Abraham Lincoln’s Family

After President Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln secured the first life pension for the widow of a president, and their son Robert rose to prominence as a lawyer and politician.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the experiences of Mary Todd and Robert Lincoln in the aftermath of President Lincoln’s death

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
  • Mary Lincoln, President Lincoln’s wife, was the first widow of a president to argue for and secure a life pension similar to those given to widows of U.S. soldiers.
  • After the president’s death, Mary led an eccentric life, suffered from mental illness, and was involved in public controversies.
  • Robert Lincoln, Mary and President Lincoln’s only surviving son, remained a prominent figure in business and Republican politics for the remainder of his life, serving as secretary of war in the administrations of James Garfield and Chester Arthur and as minister to England in Benjamin Harrison’s administration.

Key Terms

  • modiste: A fashionable dressmaker and/or seamstress.

On April 14, 1865, as President Abraham Lincoln sat in a box at Ford’s Theatre with his wife Mary and two other theatergoers, John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, shot the president in the back of the head. Lincoln was taken across the street to Petersen House and his cabinet was summoned. Mary and her son Robert Lincoln sat with the president through the night. President Lincoln died the following morning. Following her husband’s death, Mary was reportedly became unhinged with grief. Having lost two sons previously, and then her husband, she suffered from a deep depression that manifested itself over the years in increasingly erratic behavior, including paranoid tendencies and professed desires to self harm.

Deeply in debt following many years of extravagant spending, she was the object of scandal for attempting to sell various items, including old clothing, for cash in New York. In 1868, Elizabeth Keckley, Mary’s former modiste and friend as well as a former slave, successful businesswoman, and civil activist, published Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, a book that attempted to provide insight not only into Keckley’s experiences during her time in slavery, but also into Mary’s life and character following the scandal. Unfortunately, the publication earned Keckley derision and criticism, and Mary viewed the publication a breach of trust and privacy. On July 14, 1870, two years after publication of the book, Mary was granted a life pension in the amount of $3,000 (or $56,139 in 2016 dollars), which was unprecedented at the time and passed by a small margin on account of how many congressmen Mary had alienated over the years. Approval only was gained after Mary wrote numerous letters to Congress, drawing comparisons between herself and the widows of soldiers.

Robert Lincoln, who had served on Ulysses S. Grant’s staff as a captain in the Union Army at the end of the Civil War, remained active in Republican politics after his father’s death. Robert was discussed as a possible Republican candidate many times, but never mounted a campaign, with the exception of his elected position as town supervisor of South Chicago from 1876 to 1877. Nonetheless, Robert was appointed secretary of war during the administrations of James Garfield and Chester Arthur and served as minister to England during Benjamin Harrison’s administration. In 1897, he succeeded George Pullman as president of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a company he had previously served as counsel and remained affiliated with until his death.