THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Glorious Fourth (Saturday, July 4th, 1863).

"The Glorious Fourth," Mort Kuntsler's painting of the victory at Vicksburg.

“The Glorious Fourth,” Mort Kuntsler’s painting of the victory at Vicksburg.

July of 1776 proved to be a pivotal day in the history of the American colonies. In this month, the thirteen separate “countries” finally banded together as one country: the United States of America. On July 2nd, the 2nd Continental Congress, representing all thirteen colonies, unanimously declared independence from Great Britain. John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts, wrote to his wife of the day, stating that July 2nd would “be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the day of deliverance,” to be observed and celebrated “from this time forward forevermore.” He would be right about the celebrations, but proved to be wrong about the date. Two days later, on July 4th, Congress officially adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and was officially made public for the first time. With this action, July 4th would officially be considered Independence Day, as the day that the colonists officially threw off the chains of Great Britain, and created what officially became the United States of America.

87 years later, the very existence of the country those men created was at stake. For the argument over slavery and states’ rights had culminated in the costliest war in American history. At its heart lay not only the existence of the United States as a whole, but the idea of freedom as well. In September of 1862, following the Battle of Antietam, Union President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom to all of those slaves in the states still in rebellion. But Lincoln knew that, for it to truly work, the Union would have to win the war. And by the end of June, 1863, it looked as though the war was turning against the Union yet again. Not only were troops in the west bogged down in an endless siege around Vicksburg, Mississippi, but Confederate troops were again moving north, this time into Pennsylvania. IT seemed that, at this moment, the fate of the nation truly hang in the balance. However, on July 4th, 1863, 87 years to the day of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, the tide of war changed in favor of the United States.

The first of these changes, and the one which has been the subject of this series of articles, was the culmination of the Battle of Gettysburg. After three days of brutal fighting (July 1st-3rd), Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee struggled hard against Union troops under Major General George Gordon Meade. Despite a great amount of courage and heroism, the Confederates were unsuccessful at driving Meade’s troops from the field. After a disastrous attack on July 3rd, an assault that would forever be known as “Pickett’s Charge,” Lee’s troops were beaten. Although official casualties have never been fully confirmed, Confederate losses have been estimated at nearly 28,000 of the 75,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia, over a third of Lee’s forces. Union casualties numbered nearly 23,000. 51,000 men killed, wounded and captured/missing in three days of fighting. On July 4th, Lee finally acknowledged defeat, and began his retreat back to Virginia. Meade and his troops failed to take the initiative and pursue Lee. By the time they finally moved, Confederates were across the Potomac, and back in Virginia. Lee would never again attempt such an audacious invasion again, and was forced to fight a defensive war that would eventually lead to their ultimate defeat two years later.

On the same day that Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia began the retreat from Gettysburg, Union troops in the western theater achieved an equally important victory. For several weeks, the forces of Major General Ulysses S. Grant had laid siege to the Confederate city of Vicksburg, a vital city along the Mississippi River. At last, with food supplies spent, and the troops no longer able to hold out against the continual assault, the Confederates finally surrendered on July 4th. With Vicksburg gone, control of the Mississippi lay almost entirely in the hands of the Union armies. The Confederacy was officially split in half, and Grant’s start reached its highest peak in the west. With further success at Chattanooga in November, Lincoln knew that Grant was the man who could win the war for him. In March of 1864, Grant was called to Washington, where he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and placed in command of all Union forces in the field. And now, he would face Lee on the fields of Virginia, and one of the greatest contests in military history would soon begin.

With the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Confederate momentum was officially rocked to its core. With Lee’s great army decimated at Gettysburg, and the vital city of Vicksburg in Union hands, the tide of war shifted to the side of the United States. In less than two years, the war would successfully be won, and the United States restored. It is for this reason that July 4th, 1863, has the right to be called “the Glorious Fourth.”

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, we will look at Lincoln’s famous address at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, and how his words showed the transformation of the man revered by many as “the Great Emancipator.” Due for release on Tuesday, November 19th, 2013.

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Happy New Year from CIVIL WAR DIARY!

2012 seems to have flown by. Hard to believe that we’re about to begin 2013 already. The year has been one of the more slower years for the blog, but business picked up in the last four months, with an article on the Battle of Antietam, a look at my trip to the Antietam battlefield, and a review of Steven Spielberg’s highly-anticipated film, Lincoln. With these articles, the blog achieved its highest viewership numbers ever, and I am grateful to everybody for spreading the word on this blog.

2013 promises to be an exciting year. Here is a taste of what is to come:

-The Legacy and Controversies of the Emancipation Proclamation;

-Articles covering major battles of the war, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and others;

-Reviews of previous and upcoming film and television releases connected to the American Civil War;

-Interviews with historians and filmmakers;

-Visits to Civil War battlefields and historic sites;

-And much, much more!

Cannot wait to start the new year. Here’s to hoping all of you have a safe and happy 2013! God bless you all!

The Importance of the Western Theater in the American Civil War

On this day in 1861, the first major battle of the Civil War in the west took place when around 5,400 Union troops under General Nathaniel Lyon attacked Confederate General Ben McCullough’s force of 12,000 at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. General Lyon was killed in the action, and the Federals forced to retreat, in what became the first defeat for Union forces in the west. Over 2,500 men fell on both sides during the battle. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the first battle in a part of the war often overlooked in light of events in Virginia. Here, we shall look at the Western Theater of the American Civil War, and its importance in the outcome of the conflict.

When it comes to the history of the American Civil War, the events of the Eastern Theater, and primarily those that took place in Virginia, are the most studied of them all. But the Western Theater, primarily the events in Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia, are sadly overlooked in the realm of Civil War study. Although some battles and campaigns are mentioned, the attention to given to this part of the war, and to the men that fought it, pales in comparison to what has been lavished on the events of the east. But the events of the Western Theater of the American Civil War are just as important, and in some cases, probably more important, than the events of the east. To me, there are three reasons that this theater of war was important to the Union war plan.

1. Splitting the Confederacy

It was in this theater of the war that the United States would deal a severe blow to the Confederacy by tearing the country asunder by dividing the country. The Union first did this by taking control of the Mississippi River, which served as a natural divide, with the Confederate States of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas to the west of the river. Control of this river would divide the far western states from the rest of the country, and would allow passage for Union gunboats. The campaign to take control of this vital waterway was planned and led by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, and, although it would take longer than expected, was successful. With the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4th, and the capitulation of Port Hudson on July 9th, the Union took complete control of the Mississippi, and divided the South in two.

But Union plans would eventually lead to the Confederacy being divided yet again. In 1864, with Tennessee securely in Federal hands, Union General William T. Sherman began his infamous Atlanta Campaign, which ended with the taking of that city that September. With that success behind him, Sherman then made his legendary “March to the Sea,” capturing Savannah in December. With this campaign, the Confederacy was now split into three parts, with the Union in control of much of the country between the Mississippi and Tennessee/Georgia. Sherman was also able to march virtually unopposed through South Carolina, leaving a path of destruction in his wake before entering North Carolina in March, 1865.

2. Success in Georgia and Lincoln’s Reelection

The Elections of 1864 became heavily connected with the Western Theater of the war. By September of that year, the chances of Abraham Lincoln winning reelection were slim at best. Not only had previous presidents before him failed to gain a second term in office, but many citizens of the United States felt the war was not going well, and were ready to see it over. To make matters worse, Lincoln faced strong opposition from the Democratic Presidential nominee, General George B. McClellan, former commander of the Army of the Potomac. Although he was not fully supportive of the idea, McClellan ran on a peace platform that, if elected, would see him seek negotiations for an end to hostilities, and possibly see the war conclude with the Union still divided, and slavery still in existence in the South.

But with news of the fall of Atlanta in September, things brightened for Lincoln and his administration. People began to realize that the war could be won, and that the Union could be preserved. That November, Lincoln won reelection, and was given the opportunity to see the war to its conclusion. Had the Confederacy held on to Atlanta until the time of the 1864 Election, things might have turned out differently.

3. The Rise of Ulysses S. Grant

The most important element of the Western Theater of the war is that this is where Union General Ulysses S. Grant made a name for himself. Yes, he is remembered as the man made Lieutenant General, the second since George Washington, and sent to defeat Lee in Virginia, culminating in the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. But had it not been for his success in the West, Grant would never have gained prominence in the eyes of Lincoln, who saw in him the man who could defeat Lee, and end the war.

He first gained recognition in capturing Fort Donelson in February 1862, where his call for surrender with no conditions earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Although taken by surprise at the Battle of Shiloh in April, and nearly undone by drinking and superior officers jealous of his popularity, he would go on to lead the successful taking of the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and taking control of the Mississippi River from the Confederates, in July of 1863. Then, the icing on the cake came when he successfully broke the Confederate siege of Chattanooga by driving Braxton Bragg’s army from their positions on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge on November 24-25, 1863. It was because of these successes that Lincoln called Grant east, pinned a third star on him, and gave him supreme command of all Union forces in the field.

Conclusion

These are the reasons why the Western Theater of the American Civil War was vital to the Union war effort. The taking of the Mississippi River, and Sherman’s successful campaigns in Georgia, split the Confederacy in three. Moreover, Sherman’s taking of Atlanta made it possible for Lincoln to win reelection, and continue the war effort. Finally, it was the actions of Ulysses S. Grant in this theater of war that gained him prominence, and brought him east to finish the fight against Lee. Without these successes in the west, victory for the Union may not have been achieved, and the preservation of the Union, and the ending of the “peculiar institution” of slavery, would possibly have been in vain.

Sincerely,

Steven Hancock, Civil War Diary.

Works Consulted

McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.