© copyright 2008 Storm Bear. Town Called Dobson
At the beginning of 1864, Lincoln made Grant commander of all Union armies. Grant made his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, and put Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in command of most of the western armies. Grant understood the concept of total war and believed, along with Lincoln and Sherman, that only the utter defeat of Confederate forces and their economic base would bring an end to the war. This was total war not in terms of killing civilians but rather in terms of destroying homes, farms and railroad tracks. Grant devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the entire Confederacy from multiple directions: Generals George Meade and Benjamin Butler were ordered to move against Lee near Richmond; General Franz Sigel (and later Philip Sheridan) were to attack the Shenandoah Valley; General Sherman was to capture Atlanta and march to the sea (the Atlantic Ocean); Generals George Crook and William W. Averell were to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was to capture Mobile, Alabama.
Union forces in the East attempted to maneuver past Lee and fought several battles during that phase (“Grant’s Overland Campaign”) of the Eastern campaign. Grant’s battles of attrition at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor resulted in heavy Union losses, but forced Lee’s Confederates to fall back again and again. An attempt to outflank Lee from the south failed under Butler, who was trapped inside the Bermuda Hundred river bend. Grant was tenacious and, despite astonishing losses (over 65,000 casualties in seven weeks), kept pressing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia back to Richmond. He pinned down the Confederate army in the Siege of Petersburg, where the two armies engaged in trench warfare for over nine months.
Grant finally found a commander, General Philip Sheridan, aggressive enough to prevail in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Sheridan defeated Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early in a series of battles, including a final decisive defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Sheridan then proceeded to destroy the agricultural base of the Shenandoah Valley, a strategy similar to the tactics Sherman later employed in Georgia.
Meanwhile, Sherman marched from Chattanooga to Atlanta, defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood along the way. The fall of Atlanta, on September 2, 1864, was a significant factor in the reelection of Lincoln as president. Hood left the Atlanta area to menace Sherman’s supply lines and invade Tennessee in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Union Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield defeated Hood at the Battle of Franklin, and George H. Thomas dealt Hood a massive defeat at the Battle of Nashville, effectively destroying Hood’s army.
Leaving Atlanta, and his base of supplies, Sherman’s army marched with an unknown destination, laying waste to about 20% of the farms in Georgia in his “March to the Sea”. He reached the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah, Georgia in December 1864. Sherman’s army was followed by thousands of freed slaves; there were no major battles along the March. Sherman turned north through South Carolina and North Carolina to approach the Confederate Virginia lines from the south, increasing the pressure on Lee’s army.
Lee’s army, thinned by desertion and casualties, was now much smaller than Grant’s. Union forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, forcing Lee to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond. The Confederate capital fell to the Union XXV Corps, composed of black troops. The remaining Confederate units fled west and after a defeat at Sayler’s Creek, it became clear to Robert E. Lee that continued fighting against the United States was both tactically and logistically impossible.
Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House. In an untraditional gesture and as a sign of Grant’s respect and anticipation of folding the Confederacy back into the Union with dignity and peace, Lee was permitted to keep his officer’s saber and his horse, Traveller. Johnston surrendered his troops to Sherman on April 26, 1865, in Durham, North Carolina. On June 23, 1865, at Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nations’ area of the Oklahoma Territory, Stand Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives, becoming the last Confederate general in the field to stand down. The last Confederate naval force to surrender was the CSS Shenandoah on November 4, 1865, in Liverpool, England.
Entry into the war by Britain and France on behalf of the Confederacy would have greatly increased the South’s chances of winning independence from the Union. The Union, under Lincoln and Secretary of State William Henry Seward worked to block this, and threatened war if any country officially recognized the existence of the Confederate States of America (none ever did). In 1861, Southerners voluntarily embargoed cotton shipments, hoping to start an economic depression in Europe that would force Britain to enter the war in order to get cotton. Cotton diplomacy proved a failure as Europe had a surplus of cotton, while the 1860-62 crop failures in Europe made the North’s grain exports of critical importance. It was said that “King Corn was more powerful than King Cotton”, as US grain went from a quarter of the British import trade to almost half.
When the UK did face a cotton shortage, it was temporary, being replaced by increased cultivation in Egypt and India. Meanwhile, the war created employment for arms makers, iron workers, and British ships to transport weapons.
Charles Francis Adams proved particularly adept as minister to Britain for the Union, and Britain was reluctant to boldly challenge the Union’s blockade. The Confederacy purchased several warships from commercial ship builders in Britain. The most famous, the CSS Alabama, did considerable damage and led to serious postwar disputes. However, public opinion against slavery created a political liability for European politicians, especially in Britain. War loomed in late 1861 between the U.S. and Britain over the Trent Affair, involving the Union boarding of a British mail steamer to seize two Confederate diplomats. However, London and Washington were able to smooth over the problem after Lincoln released the two.
In 1862, the British considered mediation-though even such an offer would have risked war with the U.S. Lord Palmerston reportedly read Uncle Tom’s Cabin three times when deciding on this. The Union victory in the Battle of Antietam caused them to delay this decision. The Emancipation Proclamation further reinforced the political liability of supporting the Confederacy. Despite sympathy for the Confederacy, France’s own seizure of Mexico ultimately deterred them from war with the Union. Confederate offers late in the war to end slavery in return for diplomatic recognition were not seriously considered by London or Paris.
Since the war’s end, whether the South could have really won the war has been debated. A significant number of scholars believe that the Union held an insurmountable advantage over the Confederacy in terms of industrial strength and population. Confederate actions, they argue, could only delay defeat. This view is part of the Lost Cause historiography of the war. Southern historian Shelby Foote expressed this view succinctly in Ken Burns’s television series on the Civil War: “I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back…. If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don’t think the South ever had a chance to win that War.” The Confederacy sought to win independence by out-lasting Lincoln. However, after Atlanta fell and Lincoln defeated McClellan in the election of 1864, the hope for a political victory for the South ended. At that point, Lincoln had succeeded in getting the support of the border states, War Democrats, emancipated slaves and Britain and France. By defeating the Democrats and McClellan, he also defeated the Copperheads and their peace platform. Lincoln had also found military leaders like Grant and Sherman who would press the Union’s numerical advantage in battle over the Confederate Armies. Generals who did not shy from bloodshed won the war, and from the end of 1864 onward there was no hope for the South.
On the other hand, James McPherson has argued that the North’s advantage in population and resources made Northern victory possible, but not inevitable. The American War of Independence and the Vietnam War are examples of wars won by the side with fewer numbers. Confederates did not need to invade and hold enemy territory in order to win, but only needed to fight a defensive war to convince the North that the cost of winning was too high. The North needed to conquer and hold vast stretches of enemy territory and defeat Confederate armies in order to win.
Also important were Lincoln’s eloquence in rationalizing the national purpose and his skill in keeping the border states committed to the Union cause. Although Lincoln’s approach to emancipation was slow, the Emancipation Proclamation was an effective use of the President’s war powers.
The more industrialized economy of the North aided in the production of arms, munitions and supplies, as well as finances, and transportation. The table shows the relative advantage of the Union over the Confederate States of America (CSA) at the start of the war. The advantages widened rapidly during the war, as the Northern economy grew, and Confederate territory shrank and its economy weakened. The Union population was 22 million and the South 9 million in 1861; the Southern population included more than 3.5 million slaves and about 5.5 million whites, thus leaving the South’s white population outnumbered by a ratio of more than four to one compared with that of the North. The disparity grew as the Union controlled more and more southern territory with garrisons, and cut off the trans-Mississippi part of the Confederacy. The Union at the start controlled over 80% of the shipyards, steamships, river boats, and the Navy. It augmented these by a massive shipbuilding program. This enabled the Union to control the river systems and to blockade the entire southern coastline. Excellent railroad links between Union cities allowed for the quick and cheap movement of troops and supplies. Transportation was much slower and more difficult in the South which was unable to augment its much smaller rail system, repair damage, or even perform routine maintenance. The failure of Davis to maintain positive and productive relationships with state governors (especially governor Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and governor Zebulon Vance of North Carolina) damaged his ability to draw on regional resources. The Confederacy’s “King Cotton” misperception of the world economy led to bad diplomacy, such as the refusal to ship cotton before the blockade started. The Emancipation Proclamation enabled African-Americans, both free blacks and escaped slaves, to join the Union Army. About 190,000 volunteered, further enhancing the numerical advantage the Union armies enjoyed over the Confederates, who did not dare emulate the equivalent manpower source for fear of fundamentally undermining the legitimacy of slavery. Emancipated slaves fought in several key battles in the last two years of the war. European immigrants joined the Union Army in large numbers too. 23.4% of all Union soldiers were German-Americans; about 216,000 were born in Germany.
Northern leaders agreed that victory would require more than the end of fighting. It had to encompass the two war goals: Secession had to be totally repudiated, and all forms of slavery had to be eliminated. They disagreed sharply on the criteria for these goals. They also disagreed on the degree of federal control that should be imposed on the South, and the process by which Southern states should be reintegrated into the Union.
Reconstruction, which began early in the war and ended in 1877, involved a complex and rapidly changing series of federal and state policies. The long-term result came in the three “Civil War” amendments to the Constitution: the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment, which extended federal legal protections equally to citizens regardless of race; and the Fifteenth Amendment, which abolished racial restrictions on voting.
Special Request to Town Called Dobson Fans: The San Francisco Chronicle is pondering the addition of new cartoons for their paper – a process that seems to be initiated by Darren Bell, creator of Candorville (one of my daily reads – highly recommended). You can read the Chronicle article here and please add your thoughts to the comments if you wish. If anything, put in a good word for Darren and Candorville.
I am submitting Town Called Dobson to the paper for their consideration. They seem to have given great weight to receiving 200 messages considering Candorville. I am asking TCD fans to try to surpass that amount. (I get more than that many hate mails a day, surely fans can do better?)
This is not a race between Darren and I, it is a hope that more progressive strips can be represented in the printed press of America.
So if you read the San Francisco Chronicle or live in the Bay Area (Google Analytics tell me there are a lot of you), please send your kind comments (or naked, straining outrage) to David Wiegand at his published addresses below. If you are a subscriber, cut out your mailing label and staple it to a TCD strip and include it in your letter.
Executive Datebook Editor
The San Francisco Chronicle
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San Francisco, CA 94103