Early Southern Victories
In 1862, Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas E. Stonewall Jackson repeatedly outwitted and outmaneuvered Union generals. Lincoln and his advisors planned to hold Confederate forces in western Virginia while launching an amphibious invasion that would move up the peninsula from the Chesapeake Bay to Richmond, capturing the Confederate capital. But in the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson deftly maneuvered his forces to defeat Union troops time and again. To the east, General Lee assumed command of the Confederate Army, stopped General George B. McClellans Union advance just miles from Richmond, then counterattacked and pushed him off the peninsula.
The Battle of Antietam
In September 1862, General Lee crossed the Potomac River and carried the war into Maryland. He had defeated the Union Army on the Virginia peninsula in May, and again at the second battle of Bull Run in August. Invading Union territory, he reasoned, might strengthen antiwar sentiment in the North and win the South recognition and aid from Europe.
On September 17, Lee met General McClellan in the bloodiest single day of fighting in the war and in American history. Union casualties at Antietam were 12,400, including 2,100 killed; Southern casualties were 10,320, including 1,550 killed. While the outcome was a stalemate, Lee retreated to Virginia.
The Battle of Vicksburg
During the first two years of the war, the Union Army and Navy secured Tennessee and won control of the upper and lower Mississippi River. But they repeatedly failed to dislodge Confederate forces from their stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi.
For months, General Ulysses S. Grant tried different approaches to take the city. Finally, in the summer of 1863, he resorted to a siege. For seven weeks, Union gunboats and land-based artillery bombarded the town and its defenses, armies clashed, and trapped residents huddled in caves and dirt bunkers. On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered.
At the outset of the war, the Union would not recruit African Americans, although escaped slaves, or contrabands, served in some units. But as the war progressed and casualties mounted, so did the need for more troops. In 1863, the Union began recruiting free blacks, and eventually some 180,000 served. They received three-quarters pay initially and mostly served under white officers. Many distinguished themselves in battle, while others had to shovel horse manure or dig entrenchments. At Millikens Bend near Vicksburg, two regiments of black soldiers, supported by gunboats, halted a Confederate advance.
The Union Navy was integrated from the outset of the Civil War. By its end, around 15 percent of the navy, over 18,000 sailors, were African American. They were among the crews that manned the gunboats in the fight for Vicksburg. Blacks and whites routinely worked and lived together on ships.
The Battle of Gettysburg
After a major victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia, Robert E. Lee launched a second invasion of the Northand again failed. Marching 75,000 men through Maryland into Pennsylvania, Lee hoped to reach Harrisburg. But General George Meade, now in command of the Army of the Potomac, met him at Gettysburg with 88,000 men on July 1, 1863. Meades forces occupied the high ground. For three days, the two armies battled, with terrible losses. General George Pickett led the final Southern assault, against the center of the Union line. When it failed, Lee recognized defeat, retreated, and abandoned his hope of taking the war into Northern territory.
In March 1864, William T. Sherman assumed command of the Union Army in the West, and in May, he began a destructive march through the Southern heartland.
Sherman had a different view of warfare than his contemporaries Grant and Lee. In his mind, wars were not between armies, but between people. Winning did not mean destroying the enemys army, but crushing the peoples will to fight. As Sherman marched south from Tennessee, he focused on making Southerners feel the horrible cost of war.
By July he had fought his way to Atlanta, and the city fell on September 2. Sherman continued his campaign with a brutal march to the sea, spreading out his army and cutting swaths of destruction. Reaching Savannah in December, he presented its capture to Lincoln as a Christmas gift.