The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

Civil War

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Turning Points

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. McClellan’s Union advance just miles from Richmond, then counterattacked and pushed him off the peninsula.


Exhibition Graphics

General Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

Confederate troops in Frederick, Maryland

Confederate troops in Frederick, Maryland

Men of the Fourth Georgia Infantry ready to leave for Virginia, 1861

Men of the Fourth Georgia Infantry ready to leave for Virginia, 1861


Related Artifacts

Confederate Battle Flag
Confederate Dispatch Bag
M1842 Harpers Ferry Rifle
Richmond  Musket

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.


Exhibition Graphics

Map of the battle of Antietam

Map of the battle of Antietam

The “Sunken Road”; location of many battle casualties at Antietam

The “Sunken Road”; location of many battle casualties at Antietam

President Lincoln and General McClellan at Antietam

President Lincoln and General McClellan at Antietam


Related Artifacts

Major General George McClellan’s Coat Worn at Antietam
McClellan’s Chess Set
McClellan's Colt Model 1861 Navy Revolver

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.

African Americans

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 Milliken’s 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.


Exhibition Graphics

Map of Vicksburg and its defenses

Map of Vicksburg and its defenses

Wexford Lodge after the siege of Vicksburg

Wexford Lodge after the siege of Vicksburg

“Men of Color” recruitment poster

“Men of Color” recruitment poster

Black and white sailors aboard ship

Black and white sailors aboard ship


Related Artifacts

Battle Rattle
USS Carondolet Model
Flat hat from the USS Kearsarge
Infantry Private Frock Coat and Hardee Hat
Grant's Vicksburg Victory Medal

The Battle of Gettysburg

After a major victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia, Robert E. Lee launched a second invasion of the North—and 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. Meade’s 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.


Exhibition Graphics

Map of the field of Gettysburg

Map of the field of Gettysburg

Gardner’s Sketch Book, Harvest of Dead at Gettysburg

Gardner’s Sketch Book, Harvest of Dead at Gettysburg


Related Artifacts

Confederate Infantry Shell Jacket
New Testament
Painted Canteen

Sherman’s March

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 enemy’s army, but crushing the people’s 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.”


Exhibition Graphics

General William Sherman

General William Sherman

Union soldiers

Union soldiers

Ruins on Broad Street, Charleston

Ruins on Broad Street, Charleston

Shell-damaged Potter house, Atlanta

Shell-damaged Potter house, Atlanta

Chevaux-de-frise; a spike defense on Marietta Street, Atlanta

Chevaux-de-frise; a spike defense on Marietta Street, Atlanta

Southerners fleeing their homes

Southerners fleeing their homes

Wreckage of ammunition train burned during the evacuation of Atlanta

Wreckage of ammunition train burned during the evacuation of Atlanta

Destroyed railroad tracks

Destroyed railroad tracks

Ruins of Savannah houses

Ruins of Savannah houses

Ruins of Charleston

Ruins of Charleston

Sherman’s telegram to Lincoln

Sherman’s telegram to Lincoln


Related Artifacts

General William T. Sherman‘s Sword
General William T. Sherman’s Campaign Hat


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