Tuesday, October 11, 2011

1863 and the Turning Point of the War

I)                   The War for the Union – the stated goal of the Federal government was to preserve the Union of states, and this is what most soldiers who volunteered signed up to do. The question we have to ask here is why preservation of the Union was necessary.

A)    Radical abolitionists – men like William Lloyd Garrison advocated letting the South secede, since their institution of slavery was the cause of all the political discord. Garrison was also a pacifist, and he probably felt that this policy would avert a war; other abolitionists advocated the war as a means to end slavery in the country (Frederick Douglass).

B)     Lincoln Republicans – had hoped to avoid war, but if war came they wanted the South to fire the first shot. Lincoln and his portion of the party, who merely wanted to end the expansion of slavery (which they believed would mean its eventual death), believed that allowing the South to secede would damage financial interest of the country.

1)      Navigation of inland rivers – the navigation of the two principal inland rivers, the Mississippi and the Ohio, would be adversely effected by the creation of the Confederate States of America. The need for access to the port of New Orleans would have tended to weaken the bonds that states in the middle west would have toward the remaining Federal government.

2)      Railroads – Lincoln had spent the years between his brief prior service in government as a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad, which ran south from Chicago to New Orleans (by way of Memphis), so he had first-hand experience in the ways that the North and the South were tied to one another financially.

3)      End of the Slavocracy – Lincoln Republicans also tended to support the limitation of the growth of slavery, because of the animosity that southern demands for accommodation for their “peculiar institution” had engendered (Fugitive Slave Law, Dred Scott).

C)    Union Democrats – although they may not have fully supported Lincoln’s position on slavery, most Democratic Party members initially supported the war effort, and did not want to see the union ended—and this was they cause they fought for.

D)    Southern planters – obviously, their livelihoods would be most affected by any restrictions upon slavery. The end of the expansion of slavery would eventually mean the end of cheap land, which would not only affect their own land holdings (although they, as the richest in southern society, would be best able to afford that), but it would end the dream of most yeomen farmers and poor whites in the South, who believed that they could someday aspire to planterhood themselves.

E)     Yeomen farmers and poor whites – why did they fight for the preservation of slavery, of continued economic and political domination by planters?

1)      Lack of political clout – yeomen farmers and poor whites in the south had little political clout, or say, in deciding to go to war. In fact, when state conventions were held to decide the issue before the attack on Fort Sumner, the issue was voted down.

2)      Small slaveholders – over half of the slaves in the South were held by persons who owned ten or fewer slaves. These people led a very precarious economic existence, for the most part, but felt that their livelihoods would be threatened by the end of slavery—which they were told over and over again was the aim of the “Black Republicans.” Plus, many white southerners were connected through family or neighborhood with slave owners, and could count on them to "lend" them slaves during harvest.

3)      Defenders of homes – although the first shots were fired by southerners, most of the war was fought in the South, so most Confederate soldiers believed that they were in fact fighting to save their homeland.

II)                 Transformation of the Goal of the War

A)    Emancipation Proclamation – issued by Lincoln on January 1, 1863; freed all slaves in those areas still under rebellion.

(a)    Freed no slaves in loyal border states – in a concession to slave owners in the border states, slaves held by them in the border states which had remained loyal to the Union were not freed; nor were the slaves held in the parts of the South which had already been conqueror by the Union Army.

(b)   Only freed those slaves in areas controlled by the Confederate Government – which meant that it essentially freed no slaves, since the only slaves set free by the Proclamation were in no position to become free, being in a territory, which the United States government did not control.

(c)    Why is it considered important – this document stated that the slaves now held by those in rebellion against the United States were now free—or would be free as soon as the federal government could reassert control over the Southern states in rebellion?  Lincoln actually issued this proclamation in September of 1862, to give the states in rebellion a chance to come to their senses and rejoin the Union.

(i)                  Kept Europe from recognizing sovereignty of Confederacy – England, especially, was feared to be on the verge of recognizing the South politically, due to the economic tries between the textile industry and Southern cotton.  By seizing the high moral ground, Lincoln made it much more difficult for England, politically, to take this step.

(ii)                Union victory at Antietam – the Union Army fought the forces under the direction of Robert E. Lee to a standstill at this crossroads in northern Maryland, and forced Lee to withdraw.  Lincoln immediately declared this event a victory, and went public with the Proclamation, first to his cabinet, and later publicly.

(iii)               Destabilized slavery in the Confederacy – the Emancipation Proclamation had the effect of destabilizing slavery in the South, since it actively encouraged African American slaves to flee to the North and join the Union war effort.

III)              Prosecution of the War – to the middle of 1863, the Confederate forces had enjoyed a nearly unbroken string of successes, militarily.  As long as they were able to remain in a defensive posture, they enjoyed such successes.

A)    Technology v. Tactics – in the earliest stages—indeed, throughout the entire Civil War—the advances in technology of the creation of weapons far outstripped the abilities of the generals who directed the war to devise new tactics to best utilize this technology.

(a)    Rifles – the single shot rifles (explain the difference between a rifle and a musket, with a smooth bore) in use by both sides in the Civil War were deadly instruments from as far away as a quarter of a mile, which usually gave the side in the defensive mode, with fortifications built, the ability to mow down advancing ranks of soldiers in tight battle formations.
(i)                  Mortars
(ii)                Gatling guns – primitive machine guns

(b)   Medical technology – medical technology was in fact inadequate to face the challenges presented to it by the fighting of this new war.

(i)                  Amputation – the most common way of dealing with severe trauma to extremities during this war was amputation.  The size of the rounds used in these new rifles used above created a great deal of damage wherever it impacted with flesh.  Often times, before doctors had a chance to operate, infection had already set in.  Amputations done in the field, however, often lacked adequate sanitary facilities (which meant that infection reappeared after an amputation); the lack of proper anesthesia also created problems.

(ii)                Peritonitis – wounds in the abdomen created new problems.  Peritonitis set in when soldiers were wounded in the lower abdomen.  Because infection was so little understood by physicians of the day, when the intestines were involved in a wound they were clueless as to remedies—in fact, they often did single worst thing (like give water to patients with stomach wounds).  Soldiers avoided visits to the doctor at all costs, even when seriously wounded or sick.

(iii)               Sanitary conditions – the huge numbers of people involved in these campaigns, living in extremely primitive conditions, meant that diseases like typhoid and dysentery, caused by contaminated water, malaria, and measles caused three times the number of deaths than those who died of war wounds.  A doctor who served in the war said that he never saw a solid stool in his four years’ service. The United States Sanitary Commission, which became a major outlet for women from the North (like Clara Barton and “Mother” Mary Bickerdyke) to contribute to the war effort, did its best to alleviate this situation.

B)     Wartime moral – very much depended upon how well the war was going for which side; as wartime losses piled up, moral for both soldiers and civilians plummeted.

C)    Gettysburg and Vicksburg – militarily, it may be said that the turning point of the war occurred in July of 1863, with Union victories at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when a seemingly unbeatable Robert E. Lee was first decisively defeated, and the Army of Tennessee, under the generalship of U.S. Grant, finally captured Vicksburg, Mississippi and opened up the Mississippi River to Union boat traffic, in many ways spelled doom for the Confederacy.

(a)    Lee invades the North – Lee was fearful that if the war were allowed to drag on, the Union forces would be able to wear down his army by attrition (which is in fact what ended up happening); to prevent that from happening, Lee hoped that by a couple of quick victories in the North he would be able to break the Union willingness to carry on the fight.

(i)                  Offensive war exposes Lee’s tactical weaknesses – Lee, for all of his military tactical brilliantness, was tactically limited when on the offensive in much the same way as his Union counterparts (Pickett’s Charge, where three quarters of the Confederate forces that took part in this operation lost their lives).
(ii)                Gettysburg first major victory by Union forces in the Eastern Theater – although Lee had been fought to a standstill at Antietam, Gettysburg was the first major victory by the Union forces over the Confederacy in the East.

(b)   Victory at Vicksburg – Grant is finally able to end the siege at Vicksburg by performing a flanking maneuver, and take the last major southern holdout on the Mississippi River.  This victory also brings Grant to sudden national attention, and eventually leads to his assuming command of the Army of the Potomac in the East.

D.     The Slave Labor Action – as the great African American historian W.E.B. DuBois pointed out in Black Reconstruction, one of the great contributing factors to the eventual success of the North was the fact that slaves, when the opportunity presented itself, voted on the continuation of slavery with their feet.

1.      War contraband – a policy first developed by Gen. Benjamin Butler in northern Virginia, forced upon him by the large number of slaves who began showing up at Fort Monroe, which he commanded.  Butler declared the slaves forfeited by the belligerents, since they were being used to build fortifications, etc., to aid the southern war effort.  Not all northern commanders followed Butler’s example, however; a number of slaves were surrendered to their owners when the owner showed up to claim them at the Union Army camps.

IV)              The Homefront

A)    South – the war, in both the North and the South, transformed society; in the South, this transformation seemed at odds with the society that most southerners had pledged to defend.

(a)    Growth of industry – the effectiveness of the Union blockade meant that if the South were to maintain an adequate supply of war material, it would have to manufacture that material locally.

(i)                  Tredegar Iron Works – supplied the lion’s share of the iron for the Confederate war effort, with slave labor

(ii)                Textile industry – grew in locations throughout the South to provide uniforms and other clothing and shoes for Confederate soldiers.

(iii)               Transportation – the need for more miles of railroad track throughout the south led to the transformation of a sleepy little hamlet like Atlanta.

(b)   Growth of government – as in the North, the growth of industry in the South was fueled by ever greater amounts of government spending on the war effort; this growth in a central government caused great tensions in a society supposedly dedicated to the preservation of “states rights.”

(i)                  Draft – although draft incidents were more notorious in the North, the South actually instituted a draft a full year before the North.  The southern draft had a feature where not only could one buy a substitute for $300 or so, but if one owned twenty or more slaves, one was also exempt.  This brought home for many poor white southerners the class aspect of this struggle, that this was indeed “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

(ii)                Impressment – the Confederate army was authorized by the Confederate congress to take what it need from southern farmers—but only authorized payments below the market value of the goods

(c)    Growth of Dissent – as fortunes took a turn for the worse in the war effort, dissent also grew in the South.

(i)                  Richmond Bread Riot – with refugees fleeing the countryside, and the price of food on an upward inflationary spiral, the cost of adequate amounts of food for many southerners was unattainable.  This resulted in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, in a bread riot, where a large group of women broke into bakeries in the city to take bread for their families; the group then marched on the capital, and were only dispersed when Jefferson Davis promised to have the militia open fire on the group (comment about the transformation of the ideal of docile white womanhood).

B)     North – experienced many of the same tensions as the South

(a)    Growth of Industry – although the North was host to most of the industry in the United States at this time, the war spurred growth to even greater heights.

(i)                  Transcontinental Railroad – the construction of the transcontinental railroad begins in 1862; although its construction is not completed until 1868, other areas of the North are experiencing rail growth at this time as well.

(ii)                Textile industry – the manufacture of cotton cloth is replaced with woolen goods; after the war, northern textile industry retains the manufacture of both cotton and woolen cloth.

(iii)               Growth of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh becomes a growing center for the manufacture of iron goods at this time, attracting a young protégé of a Pennsylvania Railroad vice-president named Andrew Carnegie to begin investigating the industry.

(b)   Growth of Government

(i)                  Federal budget expands – the size of the federal budget expands from $63 million to $1.3 billion (that is $1,300 million)

(ii)                Issuance of “greenbacks” – paper money backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government, and the creation of a full national banking system to manage the debt created by the war

(iii)               Government the largest single employer – by war’s end, the government through the bureaucracy that was created to manage the war, was the largest single employer in the country.

(c)    Growth of Dissent

(i)                  Copperheads

(ii)                New York City Draft Riots

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