Dark Winter, 1862-1863

This week, students in History 288 have to read a handful of chapters in James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom that take the narrative of the Civil War from the pivotal summer of 1862 through the dramatic spring of 1863.  The cascading series of events can seem almost overwhelming for a modern reader:  Second Bull Run, Confederate invasions in the West and toward the North, with decisive battles at Corinth, Perryville and Antietam (Sharpsburg), the public announcement of emancipation, midterm elections in the North, military backbiting in the Confederacy, especially over the role of Gen. Braxton Bragg, a cabinet crisis in the Lincoln Administration, the catastrophic battle at Fredericksburg, the actual Emancipation Proclamation, Grant’s frustrating campaign at Vicksburg, and the bloody affair at Stones River.   Moreover, all of this activity occurred against the backdrop of Lincoln’s wrenching decisions to relieve both Gen. McClellan and Gen. Buell, and then to almost immediately fire Ambrose Burnside, Gen. McClellan’s short-lived replacement, as commander of the Army of the Potomac.  One way students can organize so much narrative drama, however, is to focus on individuals and institutions.  Who appears most intriguing?  Which relationships were the most complicated by the war’s second year?  Which institutions worked best?  Which appeared in a state of near collapse? How do you compare and contrast the performance of key figures in the Union and Confederate high commands during the period leading up to spring 1863?   Here are some leading military figures featured in this week’s reading:

Confederate

Robert E. Lee

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

James Longstreet

 

 

 

 

 

Braxton Bragg

Joseph Johnston

John Pemberton

 

 

 

 

 

Union

Don Carlos Buell

William Rosecrans

Ulysses Grant

 

 

 

 

George McClellan

Ambrose Burnside

Joseph Hooker

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5 Responses to Dark Winter, 1862-1863

  1. A great study of history, Matthew and the relationships between all the participants.

    Do you propose to write more on the relationships of the second year of the war? I’d love to disover more intimate details which is rarely written about.

  2. Ari B says:

    One of the most vexing questions in studying the military history of the civil war is why the Union had such ineffective leadership in the first three years of the war in Mid Atlantic theatre. At no time is the Union’s struggle with generalship clearer than in the period starting at Antietam and leading through Gettysburg. To Lincoln, the failure of McClellan to win a complete victory at Antietam, or to follow up his actual limited success, constituted grounds for dismissal. Indeed, while Antietam did qualify as a Union victory, it probably represented McClellan’s greatest failure as a general. Lee’s Maryland campaign started with an extremely fortuitous occurrence for the Federals. The Union had discovered Lee’s plan to divide his army as part of an attack on Harpers Ferry, in a rolled up cigar. This represented an excellent opportunity, but for the complete destruction of the Army of Virginia in one decisive. But a series of mistakes made by McClellan turned what could have been a complete Union victory into a virtual draw. As usual these mistakes indicated McClellan’s overly cautious approach that had been a hallmark of his tenure. First McClellan delayed marching on the Confederates for almost a day, he believed, as always, that in spite of the Confederate division of their army he still faced superior numbers. Once the battle started, he failed to send in reserves to exploit union gains. McClellan’s cautiousness became a self-fulfilling prophecy, the battle had been fought on even numbers since McClellan committed only one third of his troops, while Lee had used all of his. Even after the battle had ended, McClellan only sent a nominal force to chase after the retreating Army of the Virginia, and let them retreat to the Shenandoah Valley unencumbered. In light of these failures, Lincoln replaced Lee with Ambrose Burnside, who immediately went on the offensive despite logistical failures that prevented his flanking maneuver at Fredericksburg from succeeding. Rather than flanking the enemy, Burnside attacked the entrenched confederate center it what became a bloodbath for the Union. One aspect in analyzing the Union strategic and tactical failures that interested me is how the change in command styles allowed Lee’s offensive defensive strategy perfectly. As McPherson noted earlier, Lee as a commander didn’t grasp how the defensive tactics had improved since Napoleonic times. But in these two battles Lee has the opportunity to operate on the defensive successfully due to poor Union tactics, and at Fredericksburg and later at Chancellorsville has the opportunity to turn defensive success into offensive routs due to poor Union command. Had Burnside or Hooker been in command at Antietam, or McClellan at Fredericksburg, these battles likely would have gone better for the union. But the outlook of the Union commanders in charge at these battles player right into the hands of Lee.

  3. Molly Orell says:

    Many of the problems in the Union army were sourced to its leaders. One of the biggest sources for tension was between General McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. McClellan was a young West Point graduate, railroad executive and a Pennsylvania Democrat who was the general-in-chief of all the Union armies. His first campaign was the Peninsula Campaign, which took longer than Lincoln wanted. The campaign was designed to capture Richmond by moving the Army of the Potomac to the peninsula and then to the Confederate capital. Lincoln was frustrated with McClellan’s repeated delays and ultimate failure of the Peninsula Campaign and responded by removing him as general-in-chief and appointing Henry Halleck in March of 1862.

    I think the dynamic between Lincoln and McClellan is one of the more fascinating relationships that we have studied. McClellan overtly expressed his discontent with President Lincoln and rather than removing him from any position of power, he just moved him around into several different positions of power. This dissatisfaction was not coming from only one side, Lincoln was not happy with McClellan either. In March of 1862, Lincoln appointed John Pope to be the head of the Army of Virginia. Pope complied with Lincoln’s strategies of moving toward Richmond from the north (as to protect the capital). However, McClellan ignored Lincoln’s request for reinforcements and Pope, in turn, was defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run. McClellan had failed to reinforce Pope and this did not make Lincoln happy, however, he appointed him to command all forces around Washington.

    The relationship between the two men had a strange dynamic. They both had feelings of distrust and even some hatred towards each other and this was a major source of drama, which was detrimental to the Union forces as a whole. However, when Lincoln was in times of desperation, he still turned to McClellan.

  4. Kinzea says:

    General Robert E. Lee is considered by many historians to be one of the greatest tacticians of all time. President Lincoln realized this from Lee’s successful actions against John Brown at Harpers Ferry, and his skill in Texas in 1861. Lincoln then asked Lee to command the Union Army. Lee stayed with his home, Virginia, even though He succeeded General Johnston and re-named his army The Army of Northern Virginia. General Lee was the South’s strongest response to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was appointed Major General after success in Kentucky and Tennessee. He lead the campaign at Vicksburg which could be seen as the key turning point to Northern morale. The way that Grant’s strategy ended up being stronger than Lee’s tactical skills and this relationship eventually cumulated with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox after Grant seized the Confederate capital of Richmond.

    Grant was successful with his campaign to Vicksburg that could be considered one of the most important turning points of the war. This was a brilliant example of powerful strategy, for example the moment when he sent two diversions and confused the entire confederate army so his army could cross the Mississippi and make way to Vicksburg. The Pennsylvania campaign would have been equal in brilliance if not more for Lee had it been successful. His tactics on the battlefield were very strong, but he clearly hadn’t thought his plan through as he moved far enough North to be in unfamiliar territory with broken supply and communication lines to the rest of the south, where everything was going on because of their plan to stay on the defensive.

    Grant was able to break through Lee’s forces and take the Confederate capital of Richmond, VA, which essentially was the last campaign of the war. This capture lead to Lee’s acceptance of defeat in the Appomattox courthouse. Lee remained a powerful figure in American history, and was close with president Johnson and supported him against the “radical” republicans that were attempting to pass many laws that were debilitating to southern life. Grant continued on to a very controversial presidency, which was marred by corrupt appointments and harsh rumors of his actions.
    General Robert E. Lee is considered by many historians to be one of the greatest tacticians of all time. President Lincoln realized this from Lee’s successful actions against John Brown at Harpers Ferry, and his skill in Texas in 1861. Lincoln then asked Lee to command the Union Army. Lee stayed with his home, Virginia, even though He succeeded General Johnston and re-named his army The Army of Northern Virginia. General Lee was the South’s strongest response to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was appointed Major General after success in Kentucky and Tennessee. He lead the campaign at Vicksburg which could be seen as the key turning point to Northern morale. The way that Grant’s strategy ended up being stronger than Lee’s tactical skills and this relationship eventually cumulated with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox after Grant seized the Confederate capital of Richmond.

    Grant was successful with his campaign to Vicksburg that could be considered one of the most important turning points of the war. This was a brilliant example of powerful strategy, for example the moment when he sent two diversions and confused the entire confederate army so his army could cross the Mississippi and make way to Vicksburg. The Pennsylvania campaign would have been equal in brilliance if not more for Lee had it been successful. His tactics on the battlefield were very strong, but he clearly hadn’t thought his plan through as he moved far enough North to be in unfamiliar territory with broken supply and communication lines to the rest of the south, where everything was going on because of their plan to stay on the defensive.

    Grant was able to break through Lee’s forces and take the Confederate capital of Richmond, VA, which essentially was the last campaign of the war. This capture lead to Lee’s acceptance of defeat in the Appomattox courthouse. Lee remained a powerful figure in American history, and was close with president Johnson and supported him against the “radical” republicans that were attempting to pass many laws that were debilitating to southern life. Grant continued on to a very controversial presidency, which was marred by corrupt appointments and harsh rumors of his actions.

  5. John T. says:

    One of the key story lines of the Civil War is the mismatch of Union and Confederate leaders in the eastern theater preceding the battle of Gettysburg. Between the Peninsula Campaign in beginning in March of 1862 and the battle of the battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863 the Army of the Potomac went through four overall commanders: McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker. In contrast to this turnover the Confederate command structure in the East was stable. Once Johnson was wounded at Seven Pines and replaced by Lee there would be no turnover of overall command in the East for the remainder of the war. During the campaigns of spring 1862 to spring of 1863 the Army of Northern Virginia also benefitted from stability and competency of its Major Generals, especially Jackson and Longstreet. The story of overall command of the Army of the Potomac was greatly shaped by the relationship of Lincoln with his generals in the field and their sometimes-incompatible philosophies about strategy. The overall Union war strategy required strong offensive leadership able to keep up with Lee and active enough to keep Lincoln and the Northern public satisfied. Until the arrival of Grant in 1864, no general of that skill and personality was to command in the East.

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