Sunday, January 11, 2015

The War in 1865: Part One

A typical "issue" of The Civil War Today.
Note: Back in 2011 one of the first apps I purchased for my iPad was The Civil War Today. Since then I have followed the course of the war, which occurred 150 years ago now, on a daily basis using this app.  This blog will feature posts on the final events of the American Civil War as detailed in this excellent history app.  Throughout this I will sometimes place my own thoughts, beyond the information contained in the app, in italics.

By January 1865 the American Civil War was decided, but it was not yet quite over.  Great wars are often lost long before the fighting stops.  The North had won yet it is difficult to say exactly when the Southern Confederacy lost this War Between the States.  Southerners had endured and rallied from defeats at Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Nashville. There were still organized armies in the field and there was still effective resistance to Federal Authority.

As I detailed earlier, as late as the election of 1864 there remained a very real possibility for Southern cultural autonomy if not national independence. But Lincoln's reelection meant the Northern material advantages in manpower and manufacturing would continue to press forward until the South surrendered.  Yet, surrender seemed impossible for the South.  There was tremendous fear of Northern subjugation and retribution.

So, the war went on with the Army of Northern Virginia still defiantly in the trenches at Petersburg, while Richmond, the Confederate capital a few miles to the north, was still safeguarded, and with Southern forces regrouping in the Carolinas for the final showdown against well-equipped and highly-motivated Union forces. One port remained open to the Confederates for supply from Europe. That was Wilmington, North Carolina, still open to blockade runners thanks to the protection of Fort Fisher.  Throughout the rest of the tattered Confederacy, small groups and several smallish armies of Southern forces continued to skirmish and generally contest widespread Union control of the South.

According to the app, over 368,000 Union soldiers had died as the war entered 1865.  About 350,000 Confederates suffered the same fate.  Half these deaths were due to disease rather than combat. Hundreds of thousands more were maimed and wounded in the vicious fighting that a ravaged the whole South and parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania and the western frontier.  After almost four years of it everyone was sick of war. The North was tired and wanted peace but now saw total victory at hand.  The South held on to forlorn hopes as southern pride remained strong despite abject poverty, widespread misery, and, in many areas, a compete disruption of Southern cultural foundations.

Here is what happened during the beginning of January 1865 according to the Civil War Today app...

New Year's Day was marked with celebrations in Memphis, Tennessee by free blacks parading in the streets in recognition of the second anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect. Tennessee was getting ready for a state convention scheduled for January 9 to lay the legislative groundwork to officially bring the state back into the Union.  Meanwhile, skirmishing between Confederate and Federal forces near Bentonville, Arkansas reminded everyone the war was still on.

General John Bell Hood's shattered Army of Tennessee encamped near Tupelo, Mississippi, a shell of its former self after the disastrous 1864 Campaign in Tennessee.  Federal cavalry units were conducting raids in southern Mississippi, destroying Confederate rail lines there.  General P.G.T. Beauregard was ordered by Richmond to take charge in the Western Theater.  He began to travel west from his command at Charleston, South Carolina.  This occurred as Union forces were entering South Carolina from Savannah, Georgia. Confederate cavalry forces under General Joseph Wheeler offered heavy resistance at Hardeeville, SC slowing the Union advance to a crawl.

About 5,000 troops from the Army of the James boarded Union ships at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia and made ready for a second attempt upon Fort Fisher, the first Federal attack having ended in failure in late 1864.  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton left Washington to sail down to Savannah for a conference with General William T. Sherman on the conduct of operations in the Carolinas in general and against Charleston in particular.

The lameduck, Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives took up the matter of abolishing slavery. New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Delaware entered petitions for abolition.  Such an effort failed when it reached the House floor in 1864. The newly-elected House has not taken office yet and would certainly have enough votes to pass any such political measure when it convenes, but President Abraham Lincoln was pressuring the House to act before then as his administration feared that the war might end with slavery still officially legal in the country.

Union General Benjamin Butler was dismissed from his command.  The official reason was the failure of the initial attack on Fort Fisher, which he lead in December.  General Ulysses S. Grant stated that There was a "lack of confidence" in Butler as field commander and that his administrative abilities were also considered "objectionable." Southerners were certainly cheered by the news. To the South he was known as "Beast" Butler for numerous controversial actions in the war including the occupation of Baltimore, Maryland in 1861 and several harsh measures enacted during the occupation of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1862. General Edward Ord replaced Butler.

As scheduled, on January 9, some 200 delegates representing all parts of Tennessee convened in Nashville and officially introduced legislation to abolish slavery in that state.  Work began on a new constitution that would annul both the 1861 act of secession and the state's military alliance with the Confederacy, thereby paving the way for reentry into the Union.  Also on that day, debate continued in the House of Representatives on the abolition of slavery featuring an eloquent speech delivered by New York Democratic Congressman Moses Odell.

Debate continued on the abolition of slavery in the House of Representatives.  Northern congressmen opposed to abolition were plentiful and they spoke against the legislation.  New York Representative Frenando Wood stated: "The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no revolution, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction."

(Note: In retrospect, this opposition reveals why the South pinned so much hope on the defeat of President Lincoln in 1864.  The Confederacy truly believed such a political defeat would have ensured the prominence of this powerful contingent in the North who were nonchalant about slavery and had already defeated the attempt at abolition once before, and might be extended, through war weariness and acceptance of cultural differences, to embrace Southern independence.  Even this seems rather foolhardy, however. In truth, while Wood represented a broad Northern racism no different from that in the South, he and those like him nevertheless insisted upon Union.  The South had to be brought back into the Union, with slavery intact as far as this Yankee contingent was concerned, but the Union must be preserved.)

Missouri was holding a state convention of its own as abolition was debated in DC and in Tennessee. Delegates to the convention were elected by state voters last November, with roughly 2/3 of the delegates being anti-slavery.  On January 11, the convention voted to abolish slavery within that state. Work continued on a new state constitution that will, like Tennessee, be submitted to the voters of the state for final approval.

Minor Union setbacks occurred in the fact that the large naval exhibition to attack Fort Fisher was delayed due to bad weather at sea, while Confederate cavalry drove two Union infantry regiments away and captured Beverly, West Virginia.

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