The American Civil War


The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the events surrounding 
the end of the American Civil War. This war was a war of epic 
proportion. Never before and not since have so many Americans died in 
battle. The American Civil War was truly tragic in terms of human 
life. In this document, I will speak mainly around those involved on 
the battlefield in the closing days of the conflict. Also, reference 
will be made to the leading men behind the Union and Confederate 
 The war was beginning to end by January of 1865. By then, 
Federal (Federal was another name given to the Union Army) armies were 
spread throughout the Confederacy and the Confederate Army had shrunk 
extremely in size. In the year before, the North had lost an enormous 
amount of lives, but had more than enough to lose in comparison to the 
South. General Grant became known as the "Butcher" (Grant, Ulysses 
S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, New York: Charles L. Webster & 
Co.,1894) and many wanted to see him removed. But Lincoln stood firm 
with his General, and the war continued. This paper will follow the 
happenings and events between the winter of 1864-65 and the surrender 
of The Confederate States of America. All of this will most certainly 
illustrate that April 9, 1865 was indeed the end of a tragedy. 


 In September of 1864, General William T. Sherman and his army 
cleared the city of Atlanta of its civilian population then rested 
ever so briefly. It was from there that General Sherman and his army 
began its famous "march to the sea". The march covered a distance of 
400 miles and was 60 miles wide on the way. For 32 days no news of 
him reached the North. He had cut himself off from his base of 
supplies, and his men lived on what ever they could get from the 
country through which they passed. On their route, the army destroyed 
anything and everything that they could not use but was presumed 
usable to the enemy. In view of this destruction, it is
understandable that Sherman quoted "war is hell" (Sherman, William T.,
Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood 
Press, 1972). Finally, on December 20, Sherman's men reached the city 
of Savannah and from there Sherman telegraphed to President Lincoln: 
"I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with 
150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales 
of cotton" (Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. 
Sherman. Westport, Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972). 
 Grant had decided that the only way to win and finish the war 
would be to crunch with numbers. He knew that the Federal forces held 
more than a modest advantage in terms of men and supplies. This in 
mind, Grant directed Sherman to turn around now and start heading back 
toward Virginia. He immediately started making preparations to 
provide assistance to Sherman on the journey. General John M. 
Schofield and his men were to detach from the Army of the Cumberland, 
which had just embarrassingly defeated the Confederates at Nashville, 
and proceed toward North Carolina. His final destination was to be 
Goldsboro, which was roughly half the distance between Savannah and 
Richmond. This is where he and his 20,000 troops would meet Sherman 
and his 50,000 troops. 
 Sherman began the move north in mid-January of 1865. The only 
hope of Confederate resistance would be supplied by General P.G.T. 
Beauregard. He was scraping together an army with every resource he 
could lay his hands on, but at best would only be able to muster about 
30,000 men. This by obvious mathematics would be no challenge to the 
combined forces of Schofield and Sherman, let alone Sherman. Sherman's 
plan was to march through South Carolina all the while confusing the 
enemy. His men would march in two ranks: One would travel northwest 
to give the impression of a press against Augusta and the other would 
march northeast toward Charleston. However the one true objective 
would be Columbia.
 Sherman's force arrived in Columbia on February 16. The city was
burned to the ground and great controversy was to arise. The 
Confederates claimed that Sherman's men set the fires "deliberately, 
systematically, and atrociously". However, Sherman claimed that the 
fires were burning when they arrived. The fires had been set to 
cotton bales by Confederate Calvary to prevent the Federal Army from 
getting them and the high winds quickly spread the fire. The 
controversy would be short lived as no proof would ever be presented. 
 So with Columbia, Charleston, and Augusta all fallen, Sherman would 
continue his drive north toward Goldsboro. On the way, his progress 
would be stalled not by the Confederate army but by runaway slaves. 
The slaves were attaching themselves to the Union columns and by the 
time the force entered North Carolina, they numbered in the thousands 
(Barrett, John G., Sherman's March through the Carolinas. Chapel
Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1956). But Sherman's 
force pushed on and finally met up with Schofield in Goldsboro on 
March 23rd.


 Sherman immediately left Goldsboro to travel up to City Point and 
meet Grant to discuss plans of attack. When he arrived there, he 
found not only Grant, but also Admiral David Porter waiting to meet 
with President Lincoln. So on the morning of the March 28th, General 
Grant, General Sherman, and Admiral Porter all met with Lincoln on the 
river boat "River Queen" to discuss a strategy against General Lee and 
General Johnston of the Confederate Army. Several times Lincoln asked 
"can't this last battle be avoided?" (Angle and Miers, Tragic Years, 
II) but both Generals expected the Rebels (Rebs or Rebels were a name 
given to Confederate soldiers) to put up at least one more fight. It 
had to be decided how to handle the Rebels in regard to the upcoming 
surrender (all were sure of a surrender). Lincoln made his intentions 
very clear: "I am full of the bloodshed. You need to defeat the 
opposing armies and get the men composing those armies back to
their homes to work on their farms and in their shops." (Sherman, 
William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman. Westport, 
Conn.:Greenwood Press, 1972) The meeting lasted for a number of hours 
and near its end, Lincoln made his orders clear: "Let them once 
surrender and reach their homes, they won't take up arms again. They 
will at once be guaranteed all their rights as citizens of a common 
country. I want no one punished, treat them liberally all around. We 
want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and 
submit to the laws." (Porter, David D., Campaigning with Grant. New 
York: The Century Co., 1897) Well with all of the formalities
outlined, the Generals and Admiral knew what needed to be done. 
Sherman returned to Goldsboro by steamer; Grant and Porter left by 
train back north. Sherman's course would be to continue north with 
Schofield's men and meet Grant in Richmond. However, this would never 
happen as Lee would surrender to Grant before Sherman could ever get 


 General Grant returned back to his troops who were in the process 
of besieging Petersburg and Richmond. These battles had been going on 
for months. On March 24, before the meeting with President Lincoln, 
Grant drew up a new plan for a flanking movement against the 
Confederates right below Petersburg. It would be the first large 
scale operation to take place this year and would begin five days 
later. Two days after Grant made preparations to move again, Lee had 
already assessed the situation and informed President Davis that 
Richmond and Petersburg were doomed. Lee's only chance would be to 
move his troops out of Richmond and down a southwestern path toward a 
meeting with fellow General Johnston's (Johnston had been dispatched 
to Virginia after being ordered not to resist the advance of Sherman's 
Army) forces. Lee chose a small town to the west named Amelia Court 
House as a meeting point. His escape was narrow; they (the soldiers) 
could see Richmond burn as they made their way across the James
River and to the west. Grant had finally broke through and Richmond 
and Petersburg were finished on the second day of April.


 On April 4th, after visiting Petersburg briefly, President 
Lincoln decided to visit the fallen city of Richmond. He arrived by 
boat with his son, Tad, and was led ashore by no more than 12 armed 
sailors. The city had not yet been secured by Federal forces. 
Lincoln had no more than taken his first step when former slaves 
started forming around him singing praises. Lincoln proceeded to join 
with General Godfrey Weitzel who had been place in charge of the 
occupation of Richmond and taken his headquarters in Jefferson Davis' 
old residence. When he arrived there, he and Tad took an extensive 
tour of the house after discovering Weitzel was out and some of the 
soldiers remarked that Lincoln seemed to have a boyish expression as 
he did so. No one can be sure what Lincoln was thinking as he sat in 
Davis' office. When Weitzel arrived, he asked the President what
to do with the conquered people. Lincoln replied that he no longer 
gave direction in military manners but went on to say: "If I were in 
your place, I'd let 'em up easy, let 'em up easy" (Johnson, Robert 
Underwood, and Clarence Clough Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the 
Civil War, Vol 4. New York: The Century Co., 1887). 


 Lee's forces were pushing west toward Amelia and the Federals 
would be hot on their tails. Before leaving Richmond, Lee had asked 
the Commissary Department of the Confederacy to store food in Amelia 
and the troops rushed there in anticipation. What they found when 
they got there however was very disappointing. While there was an 
abundance of ammunition and ordinance, there was not a single morsel 
of food. Lee could not afford to give up his lead over the advancing 
Federals so he had to move his nearly starving troops out immediately 
in search of food. They continued westward, still hoping to join with 
Johnston eventually, and headed for Farmville, where Lee had been 
informed, there was an abundance of bacon and cornmeal. Several 
skirmishes took place along the way as some Federal regiments would 
catch up and attack, but the Confederate force reached Farmville. 
However, the men had no more that started to eat their bacon and 
cornmeal when Union General Sheridan arrived and started a fight. 
Luckily, it was nearly night, and the Confederate force snuck out 
under cover of the dark. But not before General Lee received General 
Grants first request for surrender.


 The Confederates, in their rush to leave Farmville in the night 
of April 7th, did not get the rations they so desperately needed, so 
they were forced to forage for food. Many chose to desert and leave 
for home. General Lee saw two men leaving for home and said "Stop 
young men, and get together you are straggling" and one of the 
soldiers replied "General, we are just going over here to get some 
water" and Lee replied "Strike for your home and fireside" (Freeman, 
Douglas Southall, R.E. Lee: A Biography, Vol 3. New York: Charles 
Scribner's Sons, 1935): they did. Rebel forces reached their 
objective, Appomattox Court House, around 3pm on April 8th. Lee 
received word that to the south, at Appomattox Station, supplies had
arrived by train and were waiting there. However, the pursuing Union
forces knew this also and took a faster southern route to the station. 
By 8pm that evening the Federals had taken the supplies and would wait 
there for the evening, preparing to attack the Confederates at 
Appomattox Court House in the morning. Meanwhile, Lee scribbled out a 
brave response to Grant's inquiry simply asking for explanation of the 
terms to be involved in the surrender.


 At daybreak the Confederate battle line was formed to the west of
Appomattox. The Union soldiers were in position in front of the line 
with cannons. When the Federal cannons started to fire, the 
Confederate signal for attack was sounded and the troops charged. One 
soldier later remarked: "It was my fortune to witness several charges 
during the war, but never one so magnificently executed as this one." 
(McCarthy, Carlton, Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life in the Army of 
Northern Virginia 1861-1865. Richmond: Carlton McCarthy, 1882) This 
Confederate advance only lasted from about 7am to 9am, at which time 
the Rebels were forced back. The Confederates could no longer hold 
their lines and Lee sent word to Grant to meet at 1pm to discuss 
surrender. The two men met at the now famous McLean House and a 
surrender was agreed upon. It was 2pm on April 9, 1865. Johnston's 
army surrendered to General Sherman on April 26 in North Carolina; 
General Taylor of Mississippi-Alabama and General Smith of the
trans Mississippi-Texas surrendered in May ending the war completely.


 The Civil War was a completely tragic event. Just think, a war 
in which thousands of Americans died in their home country over 
nothing more than a difference in opinion. Yes, slavery was the cause 
of the Civil War: half of the country thought it was wrong and the 
other half just couldn't let them go. The war was fought overall in 
probably 10,000 different places and the monetary and property loss 
cannot be calculated. The Union dead numbered 360,222 and only 
110,000 of them died in battle. Confederate dead were estimated at 
258,000 including 94,000 who actually died on the field of battle. 
The Civil War was a great waste in terms of human life and possible 
accomplishment and should be considered shameful. Before its
first centennial, tragedy struck a new country and stained it for 
eternity. It will never be forgotten but adversity builds strength and 
the United States of America is now a much stronger nation.


"The Civil War", Groliers Encyclopedia, 1995
Catton, Bruce., A Stillness at Appomattox. New York: Doubleday, 1963
Foote, Shelby., The Civil War, Vol. 3. New York: Random, 1974
Garraty, John Arthur, The American Nation: A History of the United 
states to 1877, Vol. 1, Eighth Edition. New
York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995
Miers, Earl Schenck, The Last Campaign. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott 
Co., 1972
Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox, The Last Battles. Virginia: 
Time-Life Books, 1987


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