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1861: The Beginning
Following the election of John C. Fremont, a renowned abolitionist, to the presidency, the state governments of seven states: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, announced that if any federal action was taken to violate their state sovereignty, they would seceede from the union. President Fremont sent a bitter reply two days later on January 4. He stated that if they secceded, the United States would take action against them and would accept nothing less than a complete apology for any southern actions.
On January 8, 1861, the state governments of these seven states convened in Montgomery, Alabama. They voted in favour of secession, whatever the cost. They nominated Jefferson Davis of Mississippi to become the president of their Confederate States of America. When news reached Washington of this decision, president Fremont immediately issued mobilisation orders that stated that every state was responsible for raising an army to crush the rebels. North Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia declared that they would not raise arms against fellow americans and that if action was taken by other states to pacify the south, that they would join the confederacy.
The USS Baltimore, a Union frigate sailing off the coast of Charleston, opened fire on the confederate held Fort Sumter on January 16, the war had begun. The five other states seceeded the following day, making 12 rebel states.
Fort SumterThe Baltimore was under the command of Captain Arnold Drew. The last orders Drew had received were to crush the rebels. Seeing a non-US flag flying over the fort immediately drew his attention and he opened fire. Shots were returned from the fort and the engagment continued for two days. On January 18th Drew took his ship back to the north.
Charleston was the primary US naval base before the war. Since any non-confederate troops were arrested the ships fell into CS hands. This took major naval power away from the US and meant they were unable to blockade the southern ports as planned.
On January 20th, the confederate government asked all 12 states to raise and equip an army. Virginia was the first to oblige. As the most populous state and the best supplied, Virginia was to play a key part in the CS war effort. On January 22nd the CSA moved its capital to Richmond, the state capital.
By the end of January the army of Virginia was raised, under the command of General Robert E. Lee. Lee was an experienced commander who had nearly 40 years service in the US army. His army consisted of a regular cadre from the state militia of 5000 men, and an irregular force of 40,000 volunteers. Only one in three men had a rifle, and no uniforms had been issued yet.
The confederate general staff under General Cooper came up with the so called "Virginia Offensive". The offensive demmanded that General Lee's army march from Richmond directly to Washington, that he surround the city and then that the confederate navy blockade it until President Fremont surrender. However the plan severely underestimated the strength of the US army, and even Lee was very pessimistic about the whole idea.
The Virginia Campaign
Lee's troops triumphantly left Richmond on February 6th. At the same time the US Army of Washington was being formed under General McDowell. The two armies met at the town of Fredericksburg on February 19th.
The first battle of Fredericksburg was closely fought, with both armies numbering around 50,000 men. After two days of fighting McDowell conceded and pulled back north of the Potomac. McDowell was subsequently sacked and replaced by McClellan. McClellan continued McDowell's retreat, but organised his forces near the railway junction at Manassas. He arrived at Manassas a week before Lee (who was still gathering re-inforcements to replace the men lost at Fredericksburg) and used this to his advantage. McClellan's army dug in, and gathered reinforcements from the surrounding area.
The 1st brigade of Lee's army, under the command of General Jackson, arrived at Manassas by rail on March 1st. Jackson's men walked straight into a trap, with Union troops blowing up the railway line after the train's carrying Jackson's men had come north. This cut off Jackson's brigade from immediate reinforcement and matched McClellan's 52,000 men against Jackson's 4000.
Jackson put up a strong defence, but he was heavily outnumbered. By the evening of March 1st, Jackson had only 1000 men left. Overnight on 1st-2nd of March Jackson pulled back, making it back to Lees army on March 3rd.
Following Jackson's defeat Lee became much more cautious, making his forces stick together. He wrote a personal letter to Jefferson Davis asking that he be allowed to keep his army at Fredericksburg until the spring, giving him two months to train his troops and further amass his forces. Davis rejected Lee's proposal, and demmanded that he "Press on to the White House". It was not until April 1st that Lee advanced, fighting skirmishes at Nokeville and Calverton. On April 5th he arrived at Manassas, by now McClellan was well prepared and waited for Lee to launch the attack. Lee was reluctant to attack, wanted to let his opponent to strike first. For four days the forces remained opposing one another.
On April 4th there was a cavalry battle between CS General Stuart and US Colonel Custer, the battle cost 600 lives but achieved little. Colonel Custer, desperate to break the deadlock, decided to provoke Lee. He lead his 7th Cavalry in a head on attack at Lee's eastern Flank. The blunder worked and Confederate troops, desperate to fight and poorly led broke ranks and charged Union positions near Bull Run. The battle turned into a massacre, with 5000 Confederate dead, compared to 50 Union casualties.
Following the failed charge Lee returned south, successfully holding together the remnants of his army. McClellan was hailed as a hero, and made commander in chief of the US army.
Fremont's AssassinationFollowing the Union victory at the 2nd Manassas, President decided to celebrate. The day after the great victory he held a victory gala at the Liberty Theater in Washington. Then during the performances Fremont was shot by James Whitby, a confederate sympathiser and out of work actor. Fremont died instantly.
The Union was shocked by Fremont's death, and his successor, Abraham Lincoln, called for a week of national mourning. The south was also disheartened following the failure of its war winning offensive. The secession now seemed more like a war than both the north and south had first expected or wanted. The south's "spirit of '76" revolution now seemed a distant memory, whereas the north's view of meerly crushing a rebellion now seemed equally unbelievable.
War In the East
Following their defeat in the west, the confederate government sent their other major army, the army of Kentucky, to invade Ohio and split the Union in two. The Army of Kentucky under General Bragg may have seemed large on paper, but it was not a sufficient fighting force and it was demoralised from the confederate defeats in the Spring. Bragg's army launched its attack in June, making it as far as Columbus before it practically disintegrated thanks to desertion and lack of supplies.
After receiving reports from scouts that Bragg's army had pulled back, Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the US Army of Ohio took the initiative. Although he only had a force of 9,000 men they were all regular troops. Grant's army arrived in Columbus on June 25th, facing only token confederate resistance, and then proceeded into Kentucky.
By this time Bragg had heard of Grant's advance and had been able to put together a militia force of 18,000. However Bragg had no cavalry or artillery, a luxury that Grant enjoyed. The two forces met at Lawrenceburg on July 2nd. Grant pulled no punches, and launched several cavalry attacks and a long artillery bombardment. After less than an hour of battle the confederate army was in disarray and Bragg ordered a general retreat.
By the evening of July 2nd Grant was at the steps of the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort. He took this opportunity to place Kentucky under a Union military government, with himself as acting governor. Lincoln rewarded Grant with a promotion to lieutenant general, and merging the army of Ohio with the army of Indiana, giving grant a force of 15,000 men to occupy Kentucky with.
Bragg retreated to Tennessee, where he demanded reinforcements and that his army be given full military priority so it could retake Kentucky. He was sacked and replaced by the much more experienced Johnston, but the army was given priority over the army of Virginia. Johnston marched north, to recapture Frankfort and liberate the state. He faced resistance from Grant at the battles of Hodgenville (August 6th), Manton (August 13th) and Versailles (August 20th), but was unable to take Frankfort that lay just out of reach. Johnston instructed his army to encamp in and around Lawrenceburg, and to strike and take Frankfort in October.
Grant also was reluctant to attack, and wanted to wait until spring 1862 to coordinate and attack with the army of the Potomac. The two armies stood their ground and waited.
After Fremont's assassination, President Lincoln declared that the war was now a "Mission of Revenge" against the south. He made general McClellan, as overall army commander, general in command of the reconquest of the south. McClellan was given military authority nearly equal to that of the president.
On July 10th McClellan, wishing to capitalise on Grant's successes in the east, led the armies of the Potomac, and of Pennsylvania in an offensive to attack Lee's forces, still reorganising at Fredericksburg, and capture Richmond. McClellan's advance guard was the 2nd corps of the army of the Potomac, commanded by the demoted General McDowell. McDowell arrived on the north bank of the Potomac on July 29th, and was spotted by Confederate scouts.
Lee's army was much stronger than it had been that spring. It was much larger and better disciplined and it had had several months to dig in. A sniper was able to wound McDowell, who returned to Washington. But he had no immediate replacement. When later that day on July 31st several confederate units attacked the union troops, they were completely disorganised. It took three days for a successor to McDowell to become apparent, Joseph Hooker. Hooker was able to keep his force together, and await the arrival of the rest of the army in August.
McClellan officially launched the second battle of Fredericksburg on August 8th. Union infantry crossed the potomac in barges, and Fredericksburg was shelled by US artillery. But the US troops were unable to form a bridgehead in Fredericksburg and were cut to pieces. McClellan continued attacks for the next two days, but they also failed. The battle soon turned into a siege, and continued into September.
West of the Mississippi
West of the Mississippi was largely confederate territory. The Army of Texas was the largest confederate force, and it numbered only 25,000 men in April 1861. The only Union army in the mid west was the army of the west. However, shortly after secession over 70% of its troops deserted to the confederacy. The force that remained formed three understrength brigades and a dozen cavalry scout troops. The army had no overall commander, still being organised. Then in July 1861 detachments from the confederate army launched raids into the indian territory and Missouri. This tipped the political balance in Missouri, which was on the brink of joining the CSA, and led to state militia being called up to form a Union army.
But 1861 was not to brink any great battles to the West. Instead the confederate staff planned a great offensive into California for 1862.
Eastern Theater 1862 - 1864
Western Theater 1862 - 1865
Total War 1864 - 1866
The Final Campaign 1867
Confederate States of America
The CSA contained 12 states.