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1861

The Confederate States of America:
From late December 1860 through February 1861, seven Southern slave states seceded from the Union. In early February, a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, established the Confederate States of America, adopted a constitution, and elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president.

The Civil War Begins:
In February 1861, Confederates began seizing federal forts in their states. Major Robert Anderson refused to surrender Fort Sumter, located on a small island off Charleston, to the Confederate state of South Carolina. In early April, President Abraham Lincoln announced he was shipping nonmilitary provisions to Fort Sumter. When Anderson refused to evacuate, the Confederates fired on the fort in the early morning of April 12, marking the beginning of the Civil War. Major Anderson surrendered the next day, and the Confederates assumed control of the fort on April 14. Subsequently, four more slave states left the Union and joined the Confederacy.

Presidential Decrees:
In April 1861, within days after the firing on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln took unprecedented unilateral action: activating state militias; calling for federal military volunteers; guaranteeing the government’s credit at an incredible 250 million dollars; and, proclaiming a blockade of Confederate ports. All of the presidential actions were undertaken without explicit statutory authority and provoked considerable debate about their constitutionality. However, Congress or the Supreme Court acquiesced or ratified them after the fact.

The First Battle of Bull Run:
The first major battle of the war occurred at Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861. Union General Irvin McDowell and 30,000 Union soldiers faced Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard and his 20,000 men. McDowell’s initially successful attack was repelled by Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson leading a counterattack that sent panic through the Union troops, who retreated toward Washington, D.C.

The Internal Revenue Act of 1861:
In order to help pay for the extraordinary cost of the war, the Internal Revenue Act of 1861 included the first federal income tax (repealed in 1872). It levied a 3% tax on annual incomes over $800 (equivalent to $115,000 in 2002 dollars), which excluded most wage earners.

The Trent Affair:
On November 8, 1861, a Union ship, the San Jacinto, halted a British vessel, the Trent, and removed two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, who were on missions seeking financial assistance and formal recognition of the Confederacy from Britain and France, respectively. The incident caused a major diplomatic crisis. Considering the act a violation of its neutrality rights, Britain demanded an apology and the prompt release of the prisoners. Britain’s Atlantic naval fleet was put on alert, and plans were made to send 8000 troops to Canada. War between the United States and Britain appeared imminent. At President Lincoln’s direction, Mason and Slidell were released to British custody, but they ultimately failed to gain either financial assistance or diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy. The Lincoln administration did not formally apologize, but admitted that the incident had violated international law.


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1862 The Battles of Forts Henry and Donelson:
Positioned just south of the Border State of Kentucky, Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson 11 miles away on the Cumberland River were the major Confederate defenses for western Tennessee. On February 6, 1862, Union troops under the command of Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant took control of Fort Henry, and 10 days later captured Fort Donelson. It was the first major Union victory of the Civil War and opened the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers to the Union. Grant’s battle policy of “Unconditional Surrender” became the nickname for his initials, U.S. Following the battles, he was promoted to major general.

The Legal Tender Acts:
On February 25, 1862, Congress established the nation’s first paper currency that was unredeemable in specie (gold or silver coin); instead, it was backed only by the credit of the federal government (i.e., it was fiat money). Formally called “United States notes,” they were also known as “legal tender notes” because each bill was printed with the explanation that it was legal tender for all debts. They were commonly called “greenbacks” because of their background color.

The act of February 25 authorized an installment of $150 million and an act of July 11 authorized a similar amount. The first issue on March 10 consisted of denominations from $5 to $1000; the second issue on August 1 consisted only of $1 and $2 denominations; and the fourth issue on March 3, 1863, added denominations up to $10,000. An act of June 17, 1862, banned the issuance of paper denominations under a dollar, but Congress reversed the policy on July 17 by authorizing fractional paper currency (which initially looked like postage stamps before becoming regular bills).

The greenbacks drove most gold and silver coins out of circulation, helped cause high inflation, and were criticized as bad policy and unconstitutional. In 1870, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Legal Tender Acts were unconstitutional for violating the Fifth Amendment prohibition on taking property without due process (sellers were forced to accept the greenbacks). The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, who had been secretary of the treasury when the legislation was enacted. The appointment of two new justices resulted in the Court reversing itself and upholding the constitutionality of the acts in 1871. That decision was reaffirmed in 1884.

The Battle of Shiloh:
Following the victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, General Grant and his Union troops moved southward. Confederate troops under General Albert Sidney Johnston attacked the Union at Shiloh, Tennessee (near the Mississippi border), on April 6, 1862. The surprised Union men suffered many casualties, while Johnston was mortally wounded and replaced by Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard. Grant refused to retreat further and counterattacked, winning a close victory on April 7. The Battle of Shiloh was the first large-scale bloodbath of the war, with nearly 24,000 killed, wounded, or missing.

The District of Columbia Ban on Slavery:
The Compromise of 1850 had outlawed the slave trade in the District of Columbia, but slavery remained legal in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia with compensation to former owners loyal to the Union. It also set aside money for the voluntary colonization of freed slaves to Haiti, Liberia, or other nations.

The Homestead Act:
Homestead legislation had been debated for about 20 years in Antebellum America. Businessmen argued that free land would lower the value of contiguous property and diminish the supply of cheap labor in the East. Southern slaveowners were afraid abolitionists would settle the land. President James Buchanan, a Democratic Northerner with Southern sympathies, vetoed homestead legislation in 1859. However, with most Southerners out of Congress during the Civil War, the Homestead Act passed and was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.

The Homestead Act distributed 160-acre parcels of surveyed land free (except for a filing fee) to settlers who agreed to occupy, improve, and farm the land for five years. A quarter-section plot could be had under a “tree claim,” with the requirement of planting and successfully growing 10 acres of timber. The Homestead Act was repealed in 1976, except for land in Alaska that remained open until 1986; however, most of the land settled under the act was claimed in the late-nineteenth century. Under the law’s provisions, 270 million acres were eventually settled, most in the Plains States of the West.

The Territorial Ban on Slavery:
The question of slavery in the Western territories had been an important issue since the early years of the Republic, and became a leading political controversy of the 1850s. In the Dred Scott case (1857), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slavery in the territories could not be banned by either the federal or a territorial government. In 1860, the Democratic Party divided on the question of whether Congress should enact a federal slave code for the territories (most Northerners opposing and most Southerners supporting the proposal). The Republican Party stood against the expansion of slavery into the territories. With most Southerners absent from Congress during the Civil War, the Republican majority enacted on June 19, 1862, a ban on slavery in the territories, without compensation to former slaveowners. No challenge of the federal law reached the Supreme Court (which by then had a Republican/antislavery majority), and the 13th Amendment of December 1865 nullified the previous Dred Scott decision.

The Pacific Railroad Act:
Hopes for a transcontinental railroad were expressed as early as the 1830s, and became more frequent with the annexation of land to the West Coast in the late 1840s (the state of California and the territories of Oregon, New Mexico, and Utah). Congressional sponsored surveys of possible routes in the early 1850s, and the issue was debated between Northerners and Southerners who wanted the line built in their respective regions. Senator Stephen Douglas sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 in an attempt to make a northern route more likely.

With Southerners absent from Congress during the Civil War, the Pacific Railroad Act passed and was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1862. It chartered the Union Pacific Railroad Company to build the road westward from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific to build the road eastward from Sacramento, California. The law provided the two companies with land grants, loans, mortgages, and other governmental privileges for building the transcontinental railroad. Overcharging by the Union Pacific became a major political scandal in 1873. The over 1700 miles of the transcontinental railroad line were completed on May 10, 1869. It reduced the previous travel time from four-plus months to one week.

The Land Grant Act:
Democratic President James Buchanan had vetoed land-grant legislation in 1859. Republican control of Congress and the White House following the 1860 elections, plus the absence during the Civil War of most Southern congressmen (who mainly opposed the legislation), allowed its passage. President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law on July 2, 1862. Sponsored by Congressman Justin Morrill (Republican, Vermont), the Morrill Land Grant Act awarded each state, which had not declared itself in secession, a grant of 30,000 acres of public land multiplied by the number of its congressional delegation (i.e., a minimum of 90,000 acres for two senators and one representative). Most of the land was to be sold and the proceeds used to establishment endowments for the founding of public colleges of agriculture, mechanical arts, or military science. Under the 1862 act, over 70 land grant colleges were established. In 1890, a second act awarded land grants to Southern states.

The Internal Revenue Act of 1862:
Passed by Congress in July, the Revenue Act of 1862 imposed excise taxes on items associated with immoral behavior (alcohol, tobacco, and playing cards), luxury goods (e.g., carriages, jewelry, and yachts), manufactured goods, processed meat, patent medicine, newspaper advertisements, licenses for all professions except the clergy, inheritances, banks, insurance companies, business corporations, and interest or dividends earned from investments. The law made the income tax (enacted the previous year) progressive (or at least two-tiered), rather than flat. It levied a 3% tax on incomes in the $600-$10,000 range ($83,000-$1,380,000 in 2002 dollars) and a 5% tax on incomes over $10,000. To manage the tax and tariff systems, the act established the Bureau of Internal Revenue. George Boutwell, a future treasury secretary (1869-1873), was named as its first commissioner.

The Battle of Antietam:
Confederate General Robert E. Lee invaded the North through western Maryland. Union General George B. McClellan gained access to the Confederate battle plan, revealing that Confederate troops were divided. However, he failed to act quickly, allowing Confederate troops to reassemble at Antietam creek near the town of Sharpsburg. The Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest day of the entire war, with over 22,000 men killed, wounded, or missing. Lee and his men retreated back to Virginia, creating another opportunity for attack not taken by McClellan. As a result, President Lincoln soon replaced McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac with General Ambrose Burnside. The Confederate failure to win a victory on Northern soil prompted Lincoln to announce the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation:
In July, President Abraham Lincoln drafted an emancipation proclamation, which he presented to his cabinet. Secretary of State William Henry Seward convinced him to wait until after a major Union victory before announcing the plan. The opportunity arose when Confederate General Robert E. Lee retreated after the Battle of Antietam. Issued on September 22, the preliminary order stated that the war would continue to be fought to restore the Union, but that in all areas still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, all slaves would be declared free. Not covered by the executive order were the Border States and areas in the South controlled by Union forces, such as Tennessee and parts of Louisiana and Virginia. When Confederate officials ignored the incentive to surrender, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued as promised. After January 1, 1863, the goal of Union forces became twofold: to restore the Union and, henceforth, to emancipate slaves.

The State and Congressional Elections:
Republicans lost control of state legislatures in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and of governorships in New York and New Jersey. After the congressional elections, the Republican majority in the U.S. House shrank from 35 to 18.

The Battle of Fredericksburg:
On November 7, 1862, General Ambrose Burnside replaced General George B. McClellan as commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac. Burnside’s strategy was to cross the Rappahannock River on pontoon bridges at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and then march south to the Confederate capital of Richmond. His 120,000 men began executing the plan on November 15, and within two days the first division had reached the outskirts of Fredericksburg. Arrival of the pontoon bridges, though, was delayed until November 25, allowing time for Confederate General Robert E. Lee to amass 78,000 troops. Union troops finally crossed the river on December 11-12, taking and looting Fredericksburg. However, they failed to break the Confederate line at Marye’s Heights, and on December 15-16 retreated back across the Rappahannock. The Union suffered 12,600 casualties at the Battle of Fredericksburg, while only 5,300 Confederates were killed, injured, or missing. The battle loss was a sharp blow to Union morale, but the manpower and materiel were quickly replaced and the campaign to take Richmond only delayed. Lee had more difficulty replenishing the Confederate side. In January 1863, President Lincoln replaced Burnside with Major General Joseph Hooker.

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1863

The Emancipation Proclamation:
President Lincoln Abraham had issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, a few days after the Battle of Antietam. The policy was aimed at inducing the Confederacy to surrender rather than lose its slaves, and was based on what Lincoln considered to be a president’s expanded constitutional authority during a national emergency (i.e., presidential war powers). Since the Confederacy continued fighting, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring all slaves in Confederate-held territory to be free.

Thereafter, to the original federal war aim of restoring the union was added the goal of freeing slaves. Thousands were emancipated as the Union Army advanced across the South. Nearly 200,000 freedmen served as soldiers, sailors, or laborers for the Union military. However, it took the postwar 13th Amendment (December 1865) to free all slaves and abolish the institution of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was opposed by many Northern Democrats, but was popular in Europe, especially among Britain’s working class. Lincoln’s bold policy was a further disincentive for Britain and other European nations to recognize or aid the Confederacy.

The National Currency Act:
Also called the National Bank (or Banking) Act of 1863, it was signed into law by President Lincoln on February 25. The act established a system of federally chartered banks (“national banks”) with operational guidelines, such as setting the minimum amount of capital and outlining procedures for granting and administering loans. Federal banknotes were recognized as legal tender for all debts, and a tax on state bank notes was levied in order to pressure state banks to become federal banks (by 1865, national banks accounted for 83% of bank assets in the United States). The federal banknotes were backed by interest-bearing federal government bonds. The act created the supervisory Office of Comptroller of the Currency within the Treasury Department, which chartered and periodically examined the banks, held their government bonds, and worked with the Bureau of Engraving to print the banknotes.

The Battle of Chancellorsville:
On April 27, 1863, Major General Joseph Hooker led the Union’s Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers in northern Virginia, initially amassing 50,000 men on April 30 at a junction named Chancellorsville. Instead of continuing to advance, Hooker waited for more troops. On May 1, Confederates under Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson attacked Union forces, who then counterattacked. That night, Jackson and his commanding officer, General Robert E. Lee, decided to reject traditional military tactics by further dividing their small number of troops.

On May 2, Jackson led most of the infantry around and to the rear of Hooker’s troops, while Lee stayed in place. The Confederate attack in the afternoon destroyed half of the Union line. On a reconnaissance mission that evening, “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded when a North Carolina Confederate regiment mistakenly fired at his approach in the darkness. He died eight days later. The fiercest fighting of the battle occurred on May 3 when the two Confederate wings broke the Union line at Chancellorsville. The campaign continued sporadically until Hooker admitted defeat and retreated across the Rappahannock on the night of May 5-6.

At Chancellorsville, the Confederates were outnumbered by the Union, 60,000 to 130,000. It was a vast disparity on paper, but in fact 40,000 Union troops in the Army of the Potomac had not engaged in the fighting. Union casualties numbered 17,000 (13%) and Confederate were 12,800 (22%). The Battle of Chancellorsville was considered an important victory for Lee and gave him the confidence (perhaps overconfidence) to launch his Gettysburg Campaign a few weeks later (see below).

The Enrollment Act:
Faced with a manpower shortage, President Lincoln on March 1, 1863, signed into law the Enrollment Act, which established a military draft. (The Confederacy had resorted to conscription in April 1862.) The Union draft age of 20-45 was broken into two classes: 1) single men 20-45 and married men 20-35; and 2) married men over 35. Those in the latter group were rarely conscripted. That a man was drafted into the Union military, however, did not mean that he would serve. Some draftees simply did not report for duty. Others were sent back home if their districts had already filled their quotas. Some men were exempted for various reasons, such as having a physical disability or familial dependents with no other means of support.
 
Finally, the federal law allowed draftees to pay the government a commutation fee of $300 ($37,200 in 2002 dollars) which did not necessarily exempt them from future drafts, or to hire a substitute to enroll in their place, which did exempt them from the current and future drafts. The Union conscripted 207,000 men, but 87,000 paid the commutation fee, while 74,000 hired substitutes, who were mainly those too young for the draft or non-citizen immigrants ineligible for it. This practice led to charges of a “rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.” In reality, unskilled workers often had commutation or substitute costs paid by their employers, local governments (funded by property taxes), or partisan political machines, such as New York City’s Tammany Hall. The commutation fee was repealed in 1864.
 
Draft Riots:
In response to implementation of the Union military draft, bloody riots erupted in cities across the North in the summer of 1863. The worst anti-draft violence occurred in New York City on July 13-16, resulting in four days of bloodshed, arson, looting, and mayhem. Rioters torched the draft office, the Colored Orphan Asylum, homes of prominent Republicans, and headquarters of Protestant charities. Several blacks were lynched, and buildings associated with black workers were burned. The draft riots spurred an exodus that reduced the city’s black population by 20% by the end of the war. The rioting was finally suppressed by federal troops, most arriving from duty at the Battle of Gettysburg (see below). With an official death toll of 119 (which many at the time thought too low), the New York draft riots remain the bloodiest outbreak of civil disorder in American history.

The Battle of Gettysburg:
In June 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee began a second campaign to invade the North (the first culminated in the Battle of Antietam of September 17, 1862). He moved west to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and then north through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Union General Joseph Hooker and his men moved parallel to Lee’s troops, but in mid-campaign President Lincoln replaced Hooker with General George Meade. On July 1-3, near the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, 97,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate soldiers engaged in intense battle.

Confederate troops attacked Union forces several times, but were unable to dislodge them. The climax came on the afternoon of July 3 when Confederate General George Pickett led a heroic but unsuccessful charge against the center of the Union lines. Nearly half of Pickett’s 15,000 men were killed. In the entire battle, the combined casualties numbered over 51,000. Lee and his troops began retreating on July 4, but were unable to cross into Virginia until July 13 because the Potomac River was too high from recent rain. Like McClellan at Antietam, Meade lost an opportunity to destroy Lee’s army. Nevertheless, Lee never again attempted an invasion of the North, and the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg (along with the simultaneous surrender of Vicksburg) was a major turning point in the war.

The Surrender of Vicksburg:
In late March 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant was repelled four times in his attempt to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, one of the Confederates’ two remaining strongholds on the Mississippi River. The terrain around Vicksburg was very difficult, rough in places, marshy in other areas. Unable to take the town by storm, Grant’s men surrounded it and settled into a prolonged siege in late May. After six weeks, with Vicksburg’s residents were on the verge of starvation, Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrendered on July 4. When the news reached the other Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, Port Hudson, Louisiana, it surrendered on July 9. Vicksburg was a decisive victory for the Union, and one of most important turning points of the war. The Union gained control of the entire Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.

President Lincoln’s First Plan for Reconstruction:
In December 1863, President Lincoln announced his first plan of Reconstruction (i.e., of reintegrating the seceded states back into the Union). It offered a general amnesty to all white Southerners who would take an oath of future loyalty to the federal government and would accept the wartime measures dealing with emancipation. (High civil and military officers of the Confederacy, as well as those who mistreated black soldiers, were temporarily excluded from the general amnesty.) Whenever 10% of the number of a state’s voters in 1860 took the loyalty oath, then those loyal voters could establish the state’s new government.

Lincoln’s plan was weighted toward local control in the hands of Southern Unionists, while requiring they abide by federal emancipation policies. The president emphasized that his plan was open to change, and that he would listen to suggestions from Congressmen or anyone else with a practical alternative. The immediate reaction in Congress and the Northern press was almost universally positive. Some radical Republicans soon began to criticize it, though, and produced their own Reconstruction plan, the Wade-Davis Bill of 1864 (see below).


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1864 National Convention of the Radical Democracy: Dissatisfied with the pace of the Lincoln administration on emancipation and of its alleged violations of civil liberties, a group of reformers met in a national convention on May 31 in Cleveland. Adopting the name Radical Democracy, the delegates ratified a platform calling for continuation of the war without compromise; a constitutional amendment banning slavery and authorizing federal protection of equal rights; protection of the rights of free speech, free press, and the writ of habeas corpus; confiscation of rebel property; enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine; a one-term presidency; and, integrity and economy in government. Next, delegates nominated for president Union General John C. Fremont, who had been the first Republican presidential nominee in 1856, and for vice president John Cochrane, a former Democratic congressman. The Fremont-Cochrane campaign failed to gain significant support, and both men withdrew from the race in late September.

The Overland Campaign:
On March 9, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general and given command of all Union armies. With General William T. Sherman moving toward Atlanta (see “Fall of Atlanta” below), Grant inaugurated a strategy to corner Confederate General Robert E. Lee, in Virginia through the Overland, Shenandoah Valley, and Petersburg Campaigns.

In the Overland Campaign (May 4-June 12), Grant ordered General George Meade and 100,000 men to shadow and fight Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, keeping it on the defensive. To ensure compliance, Grant established his field headquarters with Meade’s Army of the Potomac. Union and Confederate troops first clashed on May 5-6 in a densely wooded area called “the Wilderness,” resulting in 10,800 Confederate and 18,000 Union casualties. In the face of that heavy loss, Grant made the pivotal decision to continue the campaign, rather than retreat. He ordered Meade to march the Union men toward Spotsylvania Court House, where they engaged Lee’s Confederate troops over the two weeks of May 8-21. Casualties for the Confederates were 10,000 and for the Union were 18,000.

The Battle of North Anna River on May 23-26 resulted in 2600 Union and 2500 Confederate casualties. Grant then continued the Union advance and battled Lee’s men at Cold Harbor on May 31-June 3. A disastrous Union assault on the last day claimed half of the Union’s 13,000 total casualties for the battle. Confederate casualties numbered only 2500, and the battle was Lee’s last major victory. Grant later wrote, “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made.” On the night of June 12, Grant again advanced his troops by beginning a new campaign to reach Richmond through Petersburg (see below).

The Shenandoah Valley Campaign:
Part of the strategic plan of the new Union commander, General Ulysses S. Grant, the campaign to gain control of the Shenandoah Valley (May 15, 1864—March 2, 1865) was important because the area provided good roads and crops for the Confederacy. Major General Franz Sigel was placed in charge of the Union offensive. In the first engagement, at New Market, Sigel’s 9000 men were defeated by 5300 Confederates (including 247 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute [VMI]) under the command of General John C. Breckinridge, former U.S. vice president (1857-1861) and Southern Democratic presidential nominee (1860). Sigel was replaced by Major General David Hunter, who on June 5 beat a different Confederate force at Piedmont and then burned VMI in Lexington. Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early defeated Union troops at Winchester, entered Maryland at Frederick on July 9, successfully demanded ransom from several towns, and on July 11 occupied Silver Spring, seven miles north of the White House. Union reinforcements compelled Early back to Virginia, where on July 24 he won the Second Battle of Kernstown. He also sent Confederates into Pennsylvania, where they burned Chambersburg on July 30.

In reaction to Early’s success on the battlefield and in wounding Union morale, General Grant established on August 5 the Middle Military Division under Major General Philip Sheridan with orders to destroy Early’s army and lay waste to the Shenandoah Valley. Because Early’s troops were spread thin, Sheridan pummeled the Confederates at the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19 and Fisher’s Hill on September 22. Union troops then began burning the Shenandoah Valley (“Red October”). A surprise attack by Early on October 19 almost succeeded, but the Union counterattack forced the Confederates back to New Market. Except for a few cavalry skirmishes, both sides settled into their winter camps. Sheridan restarted the Union offensive on February 27, 1865, and swiftly completed Union control of the Shenandoah Valley on March 2. He then moved on to the final campaign of the Civil War at Petersburg (see below) and Appomattox.

The National Bank Act of 1864:
Signed into law by President Lincoln on June 3, the act revised the chartering and reserve requirements of national banks as originally stipulated in the Currency Act of 1863.

The Petersburg Campaign:
Following the Union defeat at Cold Harbor (see “Overland Campaign” above) in early June 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant decided the best route into the Confederate capital of Richmond was from the southeast through Petersburg, a major railroad center as well as a shipping port. The city was bounded by the Appomattox River and a horseshoe-shaped ridge of defensive earthworks called the “Dimmick Line”, which had been built with slave labor and contained 55 artillery batteries. A Union attack on June 9 by Major General Benjamin Butler was unsuccessful. However, the arrival of the Army of the Potomac strengthened the Union at a battle on June 15-17, which forced a Confederate retreat to an interior line at the edge of the city. After the failure of an assault by Grant on June 18, the Union began what became a 9-month siege of Petersburg. During that time, there were six major battles, 44 skirmishes, 11 engagements, nine actions, six assaults, and three expeditions, with a total of 42,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate casualties.

One of the more spectacular ploys of the war occurred during the Siege of Petersburg at the Battle of the Crater. Taking an idea from soldiers who were Pennsylvania coalminers, the Union planned to tunnel under the Confederates, explode a mine, and take advantage of the surprise and chaos by breaking through the Confederate line. A division of black soldiers was trained to lead the assault, but they were replaced at the last minute by untrained white soldiers. Before sunrise on July 30, the mine exploded creating a crater 170 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. In the confusion, Union troops charged into the crater, where they were easy targets for the Confederates. The Union casualties were 4000 compared with only 1300 for the Confederates. General Grant remarked, “It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war…”

The Army of the Potomac quickly rebounded, capturing the strategically important Weldon Railroad on August 21, 1864, and alternating attacks from north and south of the nearby James River. The onset of winter weather cooled most of the action, although the Union extended its front in early February 1865. In late March, an attack by Confederates was initially successful, but they were soon forced back to their lines. At the same time, General Philip Sheridan and two Union cavalry divisions arrived after conclusion of the Shenandoah Valley campaign (see above). On March 29, Grant launched the final offensive, which forced Confederate General Robert E. Lee to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond on the night of April 2. After meeting the next day in Petersburg with President Lincoln, Grant followed Lee toward Appomattox, where the Confederate commander was forced to surrender on April 9, 1865.

The Wade-Davis Bill:
In early 1864, radical Republicans in Congress began formulating their own Reconstruction plan. They were concerned that state governments established under President Lincoln’s Reconstruction policy in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee were curtailing the liberties of freed slaves, and that the president was ignoring Congress in the Reconstruction process. Sponsored by Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Congressman Henry Winter Davis of Maryland, the Wade-Davis bill passed the House of Representatives, 73-59, on May 4 and the Senate, 18-14 (with only one negative Republican vote), on July 2. President Lincoln refused to sign it by the adjournment of Congress on July 4, and it therefore failed to become law (by what is called a “pocket veto”).

The Wade-Davis bill agreed with Lincoln’s plan in the appointment of a provisional governor and a simple loyalty oath in the initial stage. Otherwise, the congressional measure was more stringent in almost every respect. Instead of requiring 10% to swear loyalty, it called for a majority; it then required that the electorate for a constitutional convention take an “ironclad” oath of never having fought against the Union; and it stipulated that the new state constitution must abolish slavery, disfranchise Confederate political and military leaders, and repudiate Confederate state debts. When all these conditions were met, then Congress could readmit the state to the Union.

On August 5, the outraged sponsors of the bill responded to Lincoln’s pocket veto with the Wade-Davis Manifesto in which they accused Lincoln of acting like a dictator and usurping congressional authority over Reconstruction. When Congress reconvened in December 1864, it refused to count the electoral votes or seat the representatives elected from the three states reconstructed under Lincoln’s plan.

The National Union (Republican)
National Convention:
In order to attract War Democrats, the Republican Party temporarily called itself the National Union Party. Its national convention met in Baltimore on July 7-8, 1864. President Abraham Lincoln was renominated unanimously on the first ballot. As his vice-presidential running mate, delegates chose Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat and Southern Unionist who was serving as military governor of (Union controlled) Tennessee. The platform endorsed pursuit of the war until the Confederacy surrendered unconditionally; a constitutional amendment for the abolition of slavery; aid to disabled Union veterans; continued European neutrality; enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine; encouragement of immigration; and construction of a transcontinental railroad. It also praised the use of black troops and Lincoln’s management of the war.

The Democratic National Convention:
Meeting in Chicago on August 29-30, 1864, the Democratic National Convention was dominated by its peace wing, led by Congressman Fernando Wood of New York and former Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio. The national party platform endorsed a cease-fire and negotiated settlement with the Confederacy. However, delegates rejected two peace candidates for president, Governor Horatio Seymour of New York and former Governor Thomas Seymour of Connecticut, in favor of a War Democrat, Union General George B. McClellan. Congressman George Pendleton of Ohio, a Peace Democrat, was selected as the vice-presidential nominee. McClellan accepted the nomination, but rejected the peace plank, vowing to administer the Union war effort more effectively than President Lincoln.

The Fall of Atlanta:
General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Major General William Tecumseh Sherman to move from Chattanooga, Tennessee, southward into northern Georgia, penetrating as far as possible into enemy territory. Sherman’s force of almost 100,000 men began the Atlanta Campaign on May 7, 1864. On July 17, Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston with the more aggressive General John B. Hood. However, the Union line continued to advance, and Atlanta surrendered on September 2. The fall of Atlanta was a major strategic and symbolic victory that boosted Union morale and Lincoln’s prospect of reelection, and also made Sherman a hero to Unionists.

The Election Results:
On November 8, 1864, Republican Abraham Lincoln defeated Democrat George McClellan in the Electoral College, 212-21. Lincoln became the first president to win a second term since Andrew Jackson in 1832, and the Republican’s 55% of the popular vote was surpassed (to that date) only by Jackson’s first victory in 1828. It has been estimated that Lincoln received 78% of the vote of Union soldiers and sailors. The figure was not necessary for his reelection, but was perhaps the margin of victory in a few close states and, more importantly, of great symbolic value. Republicans also gained seats in Congress, giving them unassailable control, 149 to 42 in the House and 42 to 10 in the Senate; took back several state legislatures; and lost only the governorship of New Jersey (McClellan’s home state).

March to the Sea:
On November 15, Sherman and his Union troops began marching toward Savannah, Georgia, in a massive two-wing formation 60-miles wide and 300-miles long. Although Sherman ordered his men not to harm private property, they destroyed anything they considered of possible use to the Confederate war effort, including private homes, farms, livestock, crops, and railroad lines. Sherman and Union troops occupied Savannah on December 21, and then marched northward through the Carolinas.
 

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