The End of the Civil War, 1864 - 1865 Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee in the Battle for Virginia, from the Wilderness to Appomattox
Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee
William Tecumseh Sherman When General Ulysses S. Grant was appointed as General-in-Chief of the United States Army and set to the task of capturing and defeating Robert E. Lee, he left the Western Theater in the capable hands of William Tecumseh Sherman.
The battle of the wilderness, May 5 – 7, 1864 The Battle of the Wilderness was one of the first encounters between Grant and Lee, and it was a harbinger of things to come. Thousands of men died on both sides, and Ulysses S. Grant insisted that his Army would not retreat under any circumstances. As the war waged in the overgrown forests outside of Petersburg, VA, hand to hand combat was frequent and brutal. During the course of the battle, fire broke out in the woods, and gravely injured men on both sides perished… burning to death where they lay injured.
The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House raged for eleven days, and was a constant assault by the Union Army against Lee’s entrenched positions. Although Lee would eventually retreat, the Union won the battle at enormous cost. Over 100,000 casualties were suffered by the Union, almost twice as many as the Confederacy. The difference? The Union’s greater population could replace the lost soldiers; Lee realized that he could not.
The Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia Over 7,000 Union soldiers were casualties at Cold Harbor, in a suicidal frontal assault against an entrenched position on the battlefield. Reflecting on his long life while writing his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant admitted that this assault was one of his greatest regrets in life. Many of the men who went into battle wrote letters to their parents and loved ones before the battle – certain that they would not live another day. The skeletal remains of the men who fought were gathered up for weeks.
Petersburg, Virginia In Petersburg, VA, the Confederate Army constructed a fortified position which was virtually unable to be breeched. In many ways, it was a version of the trench warfare that would characterize World War I, fifty years later. Union soldiers recognized the impossibility of a frontal assault – particularly after Cold Harbor – a siege of the city began in the summer of 1864. It would last for over a year. Union soldiers eventually blasted a hole in the rebel line using dynamite; however, the assault which followed was hampered by “The Crater” which was produced, and thousands of Billy Yanks perished.
“Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!” – Adm. David Farragut
Sherman’s Neckties Throughout his famous “March to the Sea,” Sherman’s Army tore either burned, vandalized, or destroyed everything of value to Southern people – military or civilian. Railroad tracks were pried up, set over enormous fires for hours until they could be manipulated, and then tied around trees or buildings. These were called “Sherman’s Neckties”, or “Sherman’s Ribbons.”
Sherman’s “March to the Sea” After the fall of Chattanooga, the city of Atlanta was essentially opened for Union invasion. It was Sherman’s decision to punish the population of that city – both civilian and military – by burning the vast majority of the urban center to the ground. Then, he turned his army towards the coast. Operating without any supply line at all, his men simply pillaged and stole for their basic needs, cutting a sixty mile path of destruction from Atlanta to Savannah, GA.
From Savannah through the Carolinas and onward to Virginia… When William Tecumseh Sherman captured Savannah in late December of 1864, he telegrammed Abraham Lincoln, presenting the city of Savannah to the President as a Christmas gift. Then, he turned North and his soldiers directed their energies upon South Carolina, the state which they believed had started the pestilential Civil War. Throughout the Carolinas, war was waged in the same fashion as it had been in Georgia – total destruction against military and Civilian populations alike. “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over. “ – William Tecumseh Sherman
George McClellan, Democrat In 1864, President Lincoln stood for re-election against his former General, George McClellan, from New Jersey. McClellan, who was both arrogant and ambitious, had always hated and looked down upon Lincoln. Now, he attempted to win the Presidency by claiming that the Civil War could be ended through negotiation – rather than warfare. Happily for Lincoln, both Gettysburg and Vicksburg were won during the summer of 1864, and by Election Day in November of 1864, most Americans were confident that victory was at hand. Lincoln won re-election in a landslide.
The 13th Amendment The film Lincoln, which is loosely based upon Doris Kearns Goodwyn’s work, Team of Rivals, focuses exclusively on the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. After Lincoln had been re-elected, but before he as inaugurated for his second term, Lincoln forced the amendment’s passage through Congress. Part of the reason for the urgency Lincoln felt during this period was the knowledge he held that the Emancipation Proclamation would never hold up as a legal document – it freed the slaves during times of active rebellion only. Putting the clockworks back together would have been virtually impossible at this point; so greater legal authority must be attained.
Surrender at Appomattox Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. Grant, who was often called “Unconditional Surrender” for his demanding terms of surrender, recognized that the surrender of Lee’s Army would mean both the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Reconstruction. He allowed the men to keep their guns and their horses – it was the spring, and time to plow – and he treated Lee with much dignity – refusing his sword, and sending his soldiers rations, for they had not eaten for days.
Lincoln’s Assassination On April 14, 1865 – Good Friday – Abraham Lincoln was shot to death at Ford’s Theatre by the Southern actor John Wilkes Booth. He died the following morning. The assassination was a part of a much larger conspiracy. Attempts were made against the lives of the Vice President, Andrew Johnson, and the Secretary of State William Seward. Seward was injured when attacked. Johnson’s would be assassin was too polluted on booze to carry out the attack. Lincoln’s death made Andrew Jackson, a Democrat and a Southerner, President of the United States during the first four years of the Reconstruction.