The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the events surrounding the end of the American Civil War. This war was a war of epic proportion. Never before and not since have so many Americans died in battle. The American Civil War was truly tragic in terms of human life. In this document, I will speak mainly around those involved on the battlefield in the closing days of the conflict. Also, reference will be made to the leading men behind the Union and Confederate forces.
The war was beginning to end by January of 1865. By then, Federal (Federal was another name given to the Union Army) armies were spread throughout the Confederacy and the Confederate Army had shrunk extremely in size. In the year before, the North had lost an enormous amount of lives, but had more than enough to lose in comparison to the South. General Grant became known as the "Butcher" (Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, New York: Charles L. Webster & Co.,1894) and many wanted to see him removed. But Lincoln stood firm with his General, and the war continued. This paper will follow the happenings and events between the winter of 1864-65 and the surrender of The Confederate States of America. All of this will most certainly illustrate that April 9, 1865 was indeed the end of a tragedy.
Cutting off the south
In September of 1864, General William T. Sherman and his army cleared the city of Atlanta of its civilian population then rested ever so briefly. It was from there that General Sherman and his army began its famous "march to the sea". The march covered a distance of 400 miles and was 60 miles wide on the way. For 32 days no news of him reached the North. He had cut himself off from his base of supplies, and his men lived on what ever they could get from the country through which they passed. On their route, the army destroyed anything and everything that they could not use but was presumed usable to the enemy. In view of this destruction, it is understandable that Sherman quoted "war is hell" (Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972). Finally, on December 20, Sherman's men reached the city of Savannah and from there Sherman telegraphed to President Lincoln: "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton" (Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972).
Grant had decided that the only way to win and finish the war would be to crunch with numbers. He knew that the Federal forces held more than a modest advantage in terms of men and supplies. This in mind, Grant directed Sherman to turn around now and start heading back toward Virginia. He immediately started making preparations to provide assistance to Sherman on the journey. General John M. Schofield and his men were to detach from the Army of the Cumberland, which had just embarrassingly defeated the Confederates at Nashville, and proceed toward North Carolina. His final destination was to be Goldsboro, which was roughly half the distance between Savannah and Richmond. This is where he and his 20,000 troops would meet Sherman and his 50,000 troops.
Sherman began the move north in mid-January of 1865. The only hope of Confederate resistance would be supplied by General P.G.T. Beauregard. He was scraping together an army with every resource he could lay his hands on, but at best would only be able to muster about 30,000 men. This by obvious mathematics would be no challenge to the combined forces of Schofield and Sherman, let alone Sherman. Sherman's plan was to march through South Carolina all the while confusing the enemy. His men would march in two ranks: One would travel northwest to give the impression of a press against Augusta and the other would march northeast toward Charleston. However the one true objective would be Columbia.
Sherman's force arrived in Columbia on February 16. The city was burned to the ground and great controversy was to arise. The Confederates claimed that Sherman's men set the fires "deliberately, systematically, and atrociously". However, Sherman claimed that the fires were burning when they arrived. The fires had been set to cotton bales by Confederate Calvary to prevent the Federal Army from getting them and the high winds quickly spread the fire. The controversy would be short lived as no proof would ever be presented. So with Columbia, Charleston, and Augusta all fallen, Sherman would continue his drive north toward Goldsboro. On the way, his progress would be stalled not by the Confederate army but by runaway slaves. The slaves were attaching themselves to the Union columns and by the time the force entered North Carolina, they numbered in the thousands (Barrett, John G., Sherman's March through the Carolinas. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1956). But Sherman's force pushed on and finally met up with Schofield in Goldsboro on March 23rd.
The end is planned
Sherman immediately left Goldsboro to travel up to City Point and meet Grant to discuss plans of attack. When he arrived there, he found not only Grant, but also Admiral David Porter waiting to meet with President Lincoln. So on the morning of the March 28th, General Grant, General Sherman, and Admiral Porter all met with Lincoln on the river boat "River Queen" to discuss a strategy against General Lee and General Johnston of the Confederate Army. Several times Lincoln asked "can't this last battle be avoided?" (Angle and Miers, Tragic Years, II) but both Generals expected the Rebels (Rebs or Rebels were a name given to Confederate soldiers) to put up at least one more fight. It had to be decided how to handle the Rebels in regard to the upcoming surrender (all were sure of a surrender). Lincoln made his intentions very clear: "I am full of the bloodshed. You need to defeat the opposing armies and get the men composing those armies back to their homes to work on their farms and in their shops." (Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972) The meeting lasted for a number of hours and near its end, Lincoln made his orders clear: "Let them once surrender and reach their homes, they won't take up arms again. They will at once be guaranteed all their rights as citizens of a common country. I want no one punished, treat them liberally all around. We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws." (Porter, David D., Campaigning with Grant. New York: The Century Co., 1897) Well with all of the formalities outlined, the Generals and Admiral knew what needed to be done. Sherman returned to Goldsboro by steamer; Grant and Porter left by train back north. Sherman's course would be to continue north with Schofield's men and meet Grant in Richmond. However, this would never happen as Lee would surrender to Grant before Sherman could ever get there.
The push for the end
General Grant returned back to his troops who were in the process of besieging Petersburg and Richmond. These battles had been going on for months. On March 24, before the meeting with President Lincoln, Grant drew up a new plan for a flanking movement against the Confederates right below Petersburg. It would be the first large scale operation to take place this year and would begin five days later. Two days after Grant made preparations to move again, Lee had already assessed the situation and informed President Davis that Richmond and Petersburg were doomed. Lee's only chance would be to move his troops out of Richmond and down a southwestern path toward a meeting with fellow General Johnston's (Johnston had been dispatched to Virginia after being ordered not to resist the advance of Sherman's Army) forces. Lee chose a small town to the west named Amelia Court House as a meeting point. His escape was narrow; they (the soldiers) could see Richmond burn as they made their way across the James River and to the west. Grant had finally broke through and Richmond and Petersburg were finished on the second day of April.
Lincoln visits fallen richmond
On April 4th, after visiting Petersburg briefly, President Lincoln decided to visit the fallen city of Richmond. He arrived by boat with his son, Tad, and was led ashore by no more than 12 armed sailors. The city had not yet been secured by Federal forces. Lincoln had no more than taken his first step when former slaves started forming around him singing praises. Lincoln proceeded to join with General Godfrey Weitzel who had been place in charge of the occupation of Richmond and taken his headquarters in Jefferson Davis' old residence. When he arrived there, he and Tad took an extensive tour of the house after discovering Weitzel was out and some of the soldiers remarked that Lincoln seemed to have a boyish expression as he did so. No one can be sure what Lincoln was thinking as he sat in Davis' office. When Weitzel arrived, he asked the President what to do with the conquered people. Lincoln replied that he no longer gave direction in military manners but went on to say: "If I were in your place, I'd let 'em up easy, let 'em up easy" (Johnson, Robert Underwood, and Clarence Clough Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol 4. New York: The Century Co., 1887).
The chase begins
Lee's forces were pushing west toward Amelia and the Federals would be hot on their tails. Before leaving Richmond, Lee had asked the Commissary Department of the Confederacy to store food in Amelia and the troops rushed there in anticipation. What they found when they got there however was very disappointing. While there was an abundance of ammunition and ordinance, there was not a single morsel of food. Lee could not afford to give up his lead over the advancing Federals so he had to move his nearly starving troops out immediately in search of food. They continued westward, still hoping to join with Johnston eventually, and headed for Farmville, where Lee had been informed, there was an abundance of bacon and cornmeal. Several skirmishes took place along the way as some Federal regiments would catch up and attack, but the Confederate force reached Farmville. However, the men had no more that started to eat their bacon and cornmeal when Union General Sheridan arrived and started a fight. Luckily, it was nearly night, and the Confederate force snuck out under cover of the dark. But not before General Lee received General Grants first request for surrender.
Nowhere to run
The Confederates, in their rush to leave Farmville in the night of April 7th, did not get the rations they so desperately needed, so they were forced to forage for food. Many chose to desert and leave for home. General Lee saw two men leaving for home and said "Stop young men, and get together you are straggling" and one of the soldiers replied "General, we are just going over here to get some water" and Lee replied "Strike for your home and fireside" (Freeman, Douglas Southall, R.E. Lee: A Biography, Vol 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935): they did. Rebel forces reached their objective, Appomattox Court House, around 3pm on April 8th. Lee received word that to the south, at Appomattox Station, supplies had arrived by train and were waiting there. However, the pursuing Union forces knew this also and took a faster southern route to the station. By 8pm that evening the Federals had taken the supplies and would wait there for the evening, preparing to attack the Confederates at Appomattox Court House in the morning. Meanwhile, Lee scribbled out a brave response to Grant's inquiry simply asking for explanation of the terms to be involved in the surrender.
The Final Battle
At daybreak the Confederate battle line was formed to the west of Appomattox. The Union soldiers were in position in front of the line with cannons. When the Federal cannons started to fire, the Confederate signal for attack was sounded and the troops charged. One soldier later remarked: "It was my fortune to witness several charges during the war, but never one so magnificently executed as this one." (McCarthy, Carlton, Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of Northern Virginia 1861-1865. Richmond: Carlton McCarthy, 1882) This Confederate advance only lasted from about 7am to 9am, at which time the Rebels were forced back. The Confederates could no longer hold their lines and Lee sent word to Grant to meet at 1pm to discuss surrender. The two men met at the now famous McLean House and a surrender was agreed upon. It was 2pm on April 9, 1865. Johnston's army surrendered to General Sherman on April 26 in North Carolina; General Taylor of Mississippi-Alabama and General Smith of the trans Mississippi-Texas surrendered in May ending the war completely.
The Civil War was a completely tragic event. Just think, a war in which thousands of Americans died in their home country over nothing more than a difference in opinion. Yes, slavery was the cause of the Civil War: half of the country thought it was wrong and the other half just couldn't let them go. The war was fought overall in probably 10,000 different places and the monetary and property loss cannot be calculated. The Union dead numbered 360,222 and only 110,000 of them died in battle. Confederate dead were estimated at 258,000 including 94,000 who actually died on the field of battle. The Civil War was a great waste in terms of human life and possible accomplishment and should be considered shameful. Before its first centennial, tragedy struck a new country and stained it for eternity. It will never be forgotten but adversity builds strength and the United States of America is now a much stronger nation.
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